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.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)).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.

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.

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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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