Omega-3 fatty acids help protect against heart disease

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA. Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center report that docosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (a main component of fish oil) provide significant protection against the development of coronary heart disease (CHD). Their study involved over 6,000 middle-aged men who had samples of their blood taken between 1973 and 1976. During the next seven years, 94 of these men had a heart attack or died suddenly due to heart disease. The 94 men were matched with 94 healthy men and the fatty acid profile of their blood samples compared.

The researchers found that the 94 men with heart disease tended to have a higher serum level of the saturated fatty acid palmitic acid and conclude that a high level of this acid increases the risk of CHD by 68 per cent. Palmitic acid is the main saturated fatty acid in most diets. This acid is known to cause an increase in both total cholesterol and low-density cholesterol levels; the researchers, however, found that the detrimental effect of a high intake of palmitic acid persisted even after allowing for its cholesterol- increasing effect. The researchers also determined that men with a higher blood level of the omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids, docosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid had an almost 50 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease than did men with lower levels. The researchers also found that men with CHD tended to have a higher serum level of omega-6 fatty acids derived from linoleic acid, but were unable to confirm previous reports that these acids are linked to an increased risk of CHD.
Simon, Joel A., et al. Serum fatty acids and the risk of coronary heart disease. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 142, No. 5, September 1, 1995, pp. 469-76

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