The health benefits of fish oil have been the subject of great interest for the past 80 years. These health benefits are due to the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
In 1929 biochemists Evans and Burr discovered the essential fatty acids (EFAs) and classified them as omega 3 and omega 6 based on their structure. The omega 6 EFA is called Linoleic Acid (LA) and the omega 3 EFA is Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) and both are derived from plant foods. Both are termed “essential” as the human body cannot manufacture them yet they are essential for good health so must be derived from food. The body converts the essential omega 3 ALA to small amounts of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) .
Fish oil contains concentrated amounts of EPA and DHA, which are responsible for the extensive range of health benefits that have been associated with consuming fish and fish oil supplements.
Fish Oil is Good for Cardiovascular Health
There have been many studies that show that fish oil is good for the cardiovascular system.
In 2008, The Australian Heart Foundation published a review of the evidence of the benefits of fish and fish oil to the cardiovascular system. This review came with 312 references and concludes that fish and fish oil supplements can impart substantial benefits to cardiovascular health.
Specific risk factors that are able to be improved are:
- Slows progression of atherosclerotic plaques
- Reduces elevated triglycerides
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves heart rate variability
- Reduces risk of ventricular fibrillation
- Improves function of the endotherlium, the inner most lining of our arteries
- Decreases risk of thrombosis
- Reduces blood pressure
- Lowers blood leptin levels
Fish oil is Anti-inflammatory
One reason fish oil is beneficial to cardiovascular health is the fact that fish oil is anti-inflammatory. Cardiovascular disease, like all chronic diseases, is driven by inflammation.
Renowned Cardiologist Mark Houston, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University cites the following three major driving forces behind cardiovascular disease:
- Oxidative stress
- Immune dysregulation
Reducing inflammation is an essential part of reducing cardiovascular disease risk.
Important Questions to Ask When Assessing Fish Oil’s Efficacy in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
What amount of EPA and DHA is appropriate for my needs?
For any medicinal substance to have the desired effect, it is important to ensure that you are taking a therapeutically effective amount of the active components. In the case of fish oil, the active components are EPA and DHA. It is much more important to consider how much EPA and DHA you need as opposed to how much actual fish oil as the concentrations of EPA and DHA vary widely in fish oil products. Obviously, the required amount of EPA and DHA will vary depending on depending on individual factors such as age, size, therapeutic goals and current state of health. Generally, for cardiovascular health in adults, a therapeutic amount of EPA + DHA ranges from 1gram to 4grams per day
How long do I need to take fish oil to benefit my cardiovascular system?
A large variety of individual factors need to be considered to answer this question including therapeutic goals. The “blood thinning” effects of fish oil can occur within days whereas reducing overall cardiovascular disease risk can take years.
Is fish oil still useful if I have pre-existing cardiovascular disease?
This depends on how advanced the cardiovascular disease is. The more extensive the coronary artery plaque build up, the less likely fish oil will be to reduce your risk of a heart attack.
How can I find out if I have coronary artery plaques?
Your cardiologist or GP for can initiate appropriate testing for you. Ask them about the Coronary Calcium Score (CCS) which is a useful and non-invasive scan of your coronary arteries. The CCS can identify the amount of arterial plaque and its location.
For decades fish oil has been repeatedly shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health. Its effectiveness depends on a number of important factors including:
- The person’s pre existing state of cardiovascular health
- The desired clinical outcome
- The amount of the active components EPA and DHA that are needed to achieve this outcome
- The amount of time needed to be taking fish oil to achieve the desired goal.
Peter Radi is a fully qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist with 17 years clinical experience. After gaining his qualifications in Naturopathy, Nutrition and Herbal Medicine at Nature Care College in Sydney he went on to earn a Bachelor of Health Science Degree in Complimentary Medicine from Charles Sturt University. Peter’s detailed naturopathic knowledge, together with his ability to find the root cause of a person’s symptoms, inspires and supports his clients to achieve the health and vitality they seek.