Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a wide range of health benefits. Research has shown that they can protect you against skin infection and skin cancer and also help in protecting brain from different types of damage. But perhaps the most well-known health benefit that is associated with these essential fatty acids is heart health, with a new study that suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful for heart attack patients in recovering by improving the function of the heart and reducing heart muscle scarring.
Importance of DHA
Numerous studies are driving home the importance of omega-3 fatty acids that come from animal sources for a healthy heart. After careful review of this topic, many top experts are convinced that maintaining a healthy level of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) may one of the most important priorities when it comes to food.
DHA is a 22-carbon omega-3 fat that is sourced from seafood. Omega-3 fats can be found in sources of both marine animals and plants, but contrary to what many people believe, they are not interchangeable. Aplha linolenic acid, also known as ALA, which is an 18-carbon omega-3 fat that is found in chia and flax seeds does get converted into DHA but in most cases, less than 1 to 3%, which is nowhere near the amount that you need to keep your brain and heart healthy.
While omega-3 fatty acids obtained from plants and animals are important for health, it is the animal-based DHA that is most strongly associated with the health of the heart as well as other critical health benefits. Additionally, through its electron cloud, DHA has the ability to convert light directly into DC electric current, which plays a particularly important role in establishing your circadian rhythm and biological clock.
[ Read: How Walnuts Protect Your Heart ]
DHA and EPA: Protecting Your Heart Health
According to recent research, eating fatty fish and other foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including certain plant-based sources, may help in lowering your risk of a fatal heart attack, or myocardial infarction, by roughly 10%. If these essential fatty acids are taken after a heart attack, they can also significantly increase your chances of survival.
In one large trial, it was found that survivors of heart attacks who took 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids every day for 3 years reduced their chance of a sudden cardiac death by 50%. In another placebo-controlled study that was recently conducted, it was found that taking omega-3 supplements in high doses helps in healing the heart after it has suffered an attack.
A total of 360 patients of heart attack were divided into two groups. The treatment group was given 4 grams of Lovaza, the prescription omega-3 fish oil while corn oil was given to the placebo group. After a period of 6 months, the treatment group showed a 5.6% reduction in scarring of heart muscles that were undamaged.
It was also found that the hearts of the people in this group improved their ability to pump blood when compared to the controls. That said, it may be important to note that corn oil is an extremely bad choice of placebo. Placebos should be completely inert, for example, like water. In reality, corn oil is an industrially-produced omega-6 fat that is contaminated, making it harmful as it can clearly have an adverse effect on your heart.
How Omega-3 Fats Help After a Heart Attack
After a person has a heart attack, part of the heart continuously craves oxygen and does not recover again. Thus, the remaining healthy tissue start compensating for the damaged tissue but has to work a lot harder in order to maintain the normal pumping function of the heart. Due to all that extra work, scar tissue can develop and this can start restricting even the ability of the healthy tissue to perform its job.
Researchers have found that people who have had a heart attack showed 6% less of this reduction in heart function when they took higher doses of omega-3 fats compared to those who took placebos.
In addition, individuals whose blood had the highest levels of omega-3 (it is absorbed by different people at different levels) showed a 13% reduction in scarring, which is the greatest reduction, compared to those who had the lowest levels of omega-3 fats.
Research has also found that people who take omega-3 supplements had lower levels of inflammatory markers. This has led researchers to surmise that omega-3 fats may be working by lowering inflammation in patients after they had a heart attack.
While these are promising results, researchers caution survivors of heart attacks against starting fish oil supplements in high doses without talking to their primary healthcare provider first. As with any other supplement, doses vary from person to person, so it is important to discuss the appropriate dose for you with your doctor before you start taking it.
How Animal-Based Omega-3 Benefits Heart Health
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, that are obtained from animal sources have numerous benefits on your cardiovascular health, such as:
- Lowering triglyceride concentrations
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving the function of the endothelia ( which helps in promoting the growth of new blood vessels)
- Preventing or counteracting cardiac arrhythmia
- Helping in the prevention of thrombosis, which is when a blood clot develops within a blood vessel
- Preventing deposits of fat and fibrosis of the arteries’ inner layers
- Counteracting inflammation
As you can see, omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial for patients with heart problems as well as those who have had a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, you should have two servings of fatty fish like albacore tuna or salmon every week. This will ensure that you get the fish oil you need from a safe and natural source as non-prescription fish oil supplements that are commercially available are not regulated for safety or consistent dose. So, start including fatty fish into your regular diet and make sure that your heart and brain are healthy and prevent dangerous heart-related problems.