~ Meta-Analysis Finds Fish Oil Reduces Heart Rate

The results of a meta-analysis reported online on September 19, 2005 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, "provide firm evidence that fish oil consumption directly or indirectly affects cardiac electrophysiology in humans," via the finding that consuming the oil reduces heart rate. Higher heart rate is a major independent risk factor for death from cardiovascular disease, especially sudden death.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston and Wageningen University in the Netherlands analyzed data from 30 randomized double-blind trials of fish oil that included data on heart rate. The combined trials involved 1,678 individuals with a median age of 54 years.

In the overall pooled estimate, participants who received fish oil experienced a heart rate decrease of 1.6 beats per minute compared to the placebo groups. A reduction of this size has been estimated to correlate with an approximate 5 percent lower risk of sudden death.

In studies in which participants had a greater average heart rate than 68 beats per minute or received fish oil for twelve weeks or longer, heart rate was reduced by 2.5 beats per minute compared to placebo. The dose of fish oil used in the studies did not appear to be correlated with the benefits observed.

Because fish oils are incorporated in to cardiac muscle cell membranes, they could exert their beneficial influence on heart rate by affecting ion channel function. Their ability to lower blood pressure may also contribute to heart rate reduction.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in the oils may improve heart rate variability, which the authors note may have an effect on autonomic tone. In addition to improving heart rate, fish oil may affect other cardiovascular mechanisms that contribute to the reduction in sudden death risk observed in some trials.

The authors conclude that a direct or indirect effect of fish oil on cardiac electrophysiology could account for some of fish oil's ability to improve cardiovascular risk, particularly arrhythmias.

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