The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do Omega-3 Fats Really Protect the Heart?

Eating good amounts of omega-3 fats in fish and plant foods seem to prevent fatal heart attacks, though there is no difference in nonfatal heart problems.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseed and certain other foods are associated with a slight reduction in the likelihood of fatal heart disease. This question has been controversial, with some studies suggesting that omega-3 fats protect the heart and others showing little or no benefit from consuming fish oil or other sources of omega-3 compounds.

A Review of Research on Omega-3 Fats:

This analysis, by the Fatty acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (with the acronym FORCE), reviewed data from 19 studies with 45,637 participants from 16 countries. All of these studies had collected blood or tissue samples that showed levels of omega-3 fats.

The scientists found in their analysis that plant-based and marine omega-3 fats were both linked to a slightly lower risk of a fatal heart attack. The reduction was about 10 percent. There was no association between omega-3 levels and nonfatal heart attacks.

The senior author, Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy of Tufts University, noted that these results “lend support to the importance of fish and omega-3 consumption as part of a healthy diet.”

JAMA Internal Medicine, online June 27, 2016

Omega-3 Fats in the Mediterranean Diet:

Both marine sources (fish and shellfish) and plant sources (flax, pecans, walnuts and many strong-flavored greens) of these fatty acids are components of the Mediterranean diet, so that might help explain how that eating pattern protects the heart.

If you would like advice on how to follow a Mediterranean diet at home, you may be interested in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Luis, fish oil lowers triglycerides but raises cholesterol. Try Krill Oil. But why does your mom need to lower her cholesterol? 200 is a good place to be for an older person.

In your interview with Dr. Charles “Snuffy” Myers, he very strongly advocated never using flax seeds. He said that they greatly increased the risk of prostate cancer. Not sure if he felt that way concerning other cancers.

I have seen studies where fish oil helped lower cholesterol but flaxseed oil did not. My mom has a cholesterol level of 200 and I had her on 2,000 mg flaxseed oil. It had no effect. So, I tried 3,000 mg flaxseed oil daily. Six months later, the fasting cholesterol level went up to 225. So I switched her to fish oil, 2000 mg daily. I’m curious to see if it helps.

Do fish oil supplements help lower triglycerides? I can’t take statins (leg cramps) and I’m afraid of fibrates (took them years ago and wound up needing gallbladder surgery).

In this study (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/93/2/243.full) 3.4 grams per day of EPA/DHA (combined – these are the long chain omega-3 fatty acids that come from fatty fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, etc.), lowered triglycerides by 27%. A dose of .85 grams per day EPA/DHA did not significantly lower triglycerides.

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