Fish Oil and Heart Health

DALLAS, TEXAS. The American Heart Association has reviewed the benefits of regular consumption of fish and oils found in fish. The review concludes that consuming fish helps prevent cardiovascular disease including fatal and non-fatal heart attacks, strokes, sudden cardiac death, and coronary artery disease (angina). The reviewers believe that the mechanisms by which fish oils exert their protective effect include:

  • Reduction in susceptibility to ventricular arrhythmia
  • Decrease in platelet aggregation
  • Reduction in triglyceride levels
  • Retardation of atherosclerosis
  • Lowering of blood pressure
  • Promotion of nitric oxide induced endothelial relaxation
  • Anti-inflammatory effects.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA Benefit Heart Health in Many Ways

Fish and fish oils contain long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, more specifically, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The average American diet contains only about 100-200 mg/day of EPA and DHA. The diet also contains about 1.4 grams/day of alpha- linolenic acid mainly from canola and soybean oils. Alpha-linolenic acid can be converted in the body to EPA and DHA, but not in amounts sufficient to make a significant impact. Some studies have shown that alpha-linolenic acid, on its own, may have heart-protective effects, but other studies have failed to confirm this.

Note: Flaxseed oil is a particularly rich source of alpha-linolenic acid.

The American Heart Association recommends that people increase their intake of long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 oils from fish or directly from fish oil supplements. Healthy people should consume oily fish at least twice a week. Patients with heart disease should eat enough oily fish on a daily basis to obtain about 1 gram per day of EPA and DHA combined or take a fish oil supplement providing 1 gram per day of EPA and DHA. Patients with high triglyceride levels should receive 2-4 grams/day of EPA and DHA under the care of a physician. The reviewers point out that many fish species contain significant amounts of methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and other environmental contaminants and therefore must be consumed in moderation, if at all, especially by children and pregnant and lactating women. Poorer quality fish oils may also contain these contaminants, so it is important to only supplement with highly purified, pharmaceutical grade oils.
Kris-Etherton, PM, et al. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation, Vol. 106, November 19, 2002, pp. 2747-57

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