By William Faloon
Evidence supporting the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is so convincing that fish oil is the only dietary supplement the American Heart Association recommends people consider taking.1-3
The American Heart Association has a longstanding bias against dietary supplements. So when they publish about the importance of consuming omega-3s from fish or supplements, this is a ringing endorsement from an otherwise slow-to-react scientific organization.
Both the Life Extension Foundation and American Heart Association recommend omega-3 fats based on the published literature showing that those who consume cold-water fish or fish oil supplements have markedly reduced rates of heart attack and stroke. While these studies present persuasive data, a missing piece of the puzzle is how much EPA and DHA is required in the blood to protect against coronary artery disease.
Measuring EPA/DHA in Heart Attack Victims' Blood
A landmark study was recently published on 1,059 patients admitted to the hospital because of heart attack or unstable angina (chest pain from coronary artery occlusion).4 Blood samples taken from each of these patients were evaluated for conventional cardiac risk factors and also EPA/DHA content.
Compared to age-matched controls, the risk of unstable angina or heart attack was reduced by an astounding 62% for every 1.24% increase in whole-blood EPA/DHA. As the chart on this page clearly shows, the risk of having a serious cardiac event plummets as blood levels of EPA/DHA increase.
Low Blood EPA/DHA: New Independent Cardiac Risk Factor
When blood levels of EPA/DHA in these cardiac patients were matched against a control group, statistical analysis was able to show that low blood levels of EPA/DHA may be a new independent cardiac disease risk factor, at least in middle-aged patients.
In this scenario, an â€śindependent risk factorâ€? means that even if other known promoters of coronary artery diseaseâ€”such as cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceridesâ€”are in normal ranges, oneâ€™s risk of suffering a cardiac disease is still increased if blood levels of EPA/DHA are below the optimal range.
In discussing the information gleaned from the study, the doctors noted that it supported earlier research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, showing lower blood levels of EPA/DHA in people who died suddenly from a heart attack, compared to controls.5
Guarding Against All Known Promoters of Coronary Atherosclerosis
Despite greater awareness of cardiac risk factors, heart attack is still the number-one killer of men and women.6 Sadly, heart disease and stroke are largely preventable, if people only had their blood tested and took the appropriate actions when proven cardiac risk factors fall out of optimal ranges.
Few physicians understand that coronary artery occlusion can result from any combination of 14 different causes. While protecting against some of the underlying causes may delay its manifestation, heart disease will strike a large segment of the aging population that does not take corrective actions ahead of time.
The good news is that most underlying causes of coronary artery occlusion can be detected by comprehensive blood tests.
Based on the new finding that low blood levels of EPA/DHA may be an independent cardiac risk factor, we are adding â€śLow Blood EPA/DHAâ€? to our evolving graphic of lethal daggers pointed at the aging heart. We are also factoring in the voluminous data showing that those who consume EPA/DHA in fish or supplements have significantly reduced coronary disease incidence.7-15
1. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1872. Accessed March 14, 2007.
2. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4722. Accessed March 14, 2007.
3. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4632. Accessed March 14, 2007.
4. Harris WS, Reid KJ, Sands SA, Spertus JA. Blood omega-3 and trans fatty acids in middle-aged acute coronary syndrome patients. Am J Cardiol. 2007 Jan 15;99(2):154-8.
5. Available at: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/346/15/1113. Accessed March 14, 2007
6. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/finaldeaths04/finaldeaths04.htm. Accessed March 14, 2007.
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14. Das UN. Essential fatty acid metabolism in patients with essential hypertension, diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1995 Jun;52(6):387-91.
15. Garcia-Closas R, Serra-Majem L, Segura R. Fish consumption, omega-3 fatty acids and the Mediterranean diet. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1993 Sep;47 Suppl 1:S85-90.