Omega-3s May Reduce Risk of Recurrent Heart Attacks

Omega-3s May Reduce Risk of Recurrent Heart Attacks

We’ve heard so much good news about Omega-3s and now there’s even more. We know omega-3 fatty acids are good for heart health. We also know they help fight cancer, depression and age-related mental decline.

Now we’re finding that their anti-inflammatory properties inhibit the growth of arterial plaque.

“We think that’s why a diet high in omega-3s can reduce the risk of recurrent heart attacks in people with coronary artery disease,” says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Melissa Ohlson, MS, RD, LD.

Omega-3s are called ‘essential’ fatty acids because we need them to survive.  However, our body doesn’t naturally produce these nutrients so we need to eat the foods that do.

Eating fish is the best way and salmon offers the most.

Which is probably why our friends wouldn’t let us order salmon when we joined them for dinner this week-end.  Salmon are being overfished faster than they can replenish themselves.  And we understand that the Copper River Salmon run is smaller than it’s ever been.  This may be a hardship for the bear population which counts on these fish to do their run upstream to spawn.

Other fish that carry a good supply of omega-3s are lake trout, herring, sardines and fresh tuna.

The other issue is mercury.  Mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can accumulate in the fat and it’s these toxins which cause problems. Even so the American Heart Association and the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency all say that the risks don’t outweigh the benefits of eating fish in recommended quantities.

The recommendation is not to get your omega 3s from one type of fish. Also, vary your fish from farmed fish which is usually low in mercury to the more wild variety. Also no more than 14 ounces of fish per week needs to be consumed.

Not all Omega-3 fatty acids are created equal AND not all omega-3s are equally available to your body.  This is even more evident as you get older; our bodies have a tougher time of absorbing nutrients.

Even so, we need omega-3 fatty acids for our overall health.  Fish and fish oil supplements contain two kinds of omega-3s – DHA (docohexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).  Both are readily available to the body and have important roles in the healthy functioning of cell membranes, and maintaining healthy immune and neurological systems.  They may also lower the risk of heart disease.

Not all omega-3s come from fish.  A less well known omega-3 is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a plant-based type of omega-3.  ALA occurs naturally in walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, walnuts, flaxseed, soy, canola oil and wheat germs.

Because the body can’t manufacturer ALA it’s considered to be an essential fatty acid.

Adding omega-3 fats to food is a recent trend and that trend will grow bigger.  We’ve all seen the labels “Fortified with omega-3 fatty acids”. I don’t pay much attention to them but I probably should because some omega-3 fortified foods have added EPA and DHA while others added ALA.  The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) says that only foods that contain EPA and DHA can claim heart benefits.

Experts recommend consuming 500 to 1800 milligrams a day of EPA and DHA combined plus 1300 to 3,000 milligrams of ALA.  The fortified foods don’t reach those numbers so it’s advised to eat plenty of fish especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines.

The American Heart Association recommends a fish-oil supplement with 1000 milligrams of omega-3 combined if you have heart problems.  The main benefit is their ability to reduce the risk of heart rhythm problems in certain groups of people.

For heart disease prevention, you get the benefit of omega-3s by eating two, 30ounce servings of cold water fish a week. That gives you about 1,500 mg to 2,000 mg of DHA and EPA combined.  It’s true some types of fish contain toxins and contaminants such as mercury and when they build up and they can cause serious problems. A good rule of thumb is that the fish you purchase in a store should be eaten in moderate amounts.  Another good rule is to limit your consumption of shark, swordfish and king mackerel.

Also keep in mind if you’re taking supplements the amount of DHA and EPA in pills and in fortified foods varies widely. What’s more the evidence of heart disease prevention isn’t as good as it is with eating fresh fish.  Fish is also a good source of lean protein and a good substitute for meat if you’re trying to lower your cholesterol.

And there may be more news about omeg-3s in the near future. Mayo Clinic is participating in a large clinical trial to determine whether DHA may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

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