Consumption of Omega-3s Lowers the Risk of Fatal Heart Disease

Blood levels omega-3 fatty acids from either fish or plants are moderately associated with a lower risk of dying from heart attacks, according to a new epidemiological study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, by researchers from Stanford and Tufts.1 Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids with a double bond (C=C) at the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for normal metabolism.2 Human body cannot synthesize omega-3 fatty acids, but can obtain the shorter-chain omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3(n-6)) through diet and use it to form the more important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5(n-3)) and then from EPA, the most crucial, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6(n-3)).2 The ability to make the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids from ALA may be impaired in aging.3,4 Animal based omega-3 fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5(n-3)) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6(n-3)) were usually obtained exclusively from fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, trout, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Plant-based omega-3 fatty acids including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3(n-6)) may be found various plant sources including in walnuts, flaxseed oil, algea oil, canola oil and some other seed and nuts oils. An extensive list of omega-3 rich foods can be found here. By pooling findings from diverse large studies that had measured blood or tissue levels of omega-3 fatty acids, Stanford and Tufts scientists evaluated relationships between omega-3 fatty acids in blood with heart disease events over time. A total of 19 studies were involved from 16 countries including 45,637 participants. Of these, 7,973 people developed a first heart attack over time, including 2,781 deaths and 7,157 nonfatal heart attacks. The meta-analysis of these 19 studies showed that both fish-sourced and plant sourced omega-3s were associated with about a 10 percent lower risk of fatal heart attacks. The study is one of a large body of recent studies, either experimental or statistical, showing the beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular health. Thanks for reading. Journal Reference:
  1. Del Gobbo, L.C.; and Mozaffarian, D., et al. ω-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acid biomarkers and coronary heart disease: Pooling project of 19 cohort studies.. JAMA Internal Medicine, June 2016 DOI: 1001/jamainternmed.2016.2925
  2. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”. US National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. 2005. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  3. Freemantle E, Vandal M, Tremblay-Mercier J, Tremblay S, Blachère JC, Bégin ME, Brenna JT, Windust A, Cunnane SC (2006). “Omega-3 fatty acids, energy substrates, and brain function during aging”. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 75 (3): 213–20.
  4. Gao F, Taha AY, Ma K, Chang L, Kiesewetter D, Rapoport SI (2012). “Aging decreases rate of docosahexaenoic acid synthesis-secretion from circulating unesterified α-linolenic acid by rat liver”. AGE. 35 (3): 597–608.
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