Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and most of us know someone whom heart disease has affected in one way or another.
In honor of heart health month (February) I interviewed Dr Aimee Gould Shunney medical advisor for Nordic Naturals and Naturopathic Physician. We talked about how fish oil supplementation can have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, lowering risk of stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack and blood clots and improving lipid profiles (TG, LDL, HDL).
Omega 3 Are Essential
Omega 3 fats, found in fish oil, are long chain fatty acids which the human body cannot produce- thus essential. Omega 6 is also an essential long chain fatty acid; however we get plenty of this through our diet. Omega 3, found in certain nuts, fish and grass fed beef is commonly missing from the typical American diet.
Omega 3’s Keep Cell Membranes Healthy
Omega 3 fats play many roles in the health of our bodies, one of which is to keep cell membranes fluid and flexible. When the cell membrane becomes rigid from poor fats in the diet, receptors can’t functions well, movement of fluid and nutrients in and out of the cell is hampered and the cell is unable to its job optimally. This is very important in cardiovascular health. The blood vessels, like cell walls, need to be flexible. Rigidity of the blood vessel indicates plaque formation and can lead to hypertension and other cardiovascular problems.
Omega 3’s Improve Lipid Profiles
I fondly think of my physiology professor every time I look at a patient’s lipid profile. She taught us that the LDL acts as a Litter bug in the blood, depositing cholesterol throughout that the cardiovascular system, while HDL is working as the Highway patrol picking up the littered cholesterol and triglycerides and bringing them back to the liver where it is excreted or re-utilized. Omega 3 fats in fish oil increase HDL effectively increasing the Highway patrol and reducing LDL and triglycerides (Litter bugs) therby reducing the risk for heart disease, MI, atherosclerosis and stroke.
As for LDL, the litter bugs of the cholesterol milieu, omega 3 fatty acids do not seem to simply reduce number of circulating LDL particles. However, it does change the subtypes of LDL cholesterol, for the better. LDL type A- the lighter fluffier type of LDL is increased by omega 3 fats , and LDL type B- the denser, stickier subtype that is atherogenic, is decreased. In combination with the increase in HDL (highway patrol) and reduction in triglycerides, the total LDL number becomes less of a risk factor. These sub types are available when you look at an expanded cholesterol panel like the VAP test which measures cholesterol, HDL, LDL, LDL size patterns and subtypes of cholesterol.
Omega 3's Reduce C Reactive Protein:
C reactive protein is increased in the blood as a results of inflammation in the body. It has also been implicated as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease for those individuals who have high levels and do not have a genetic variation which increases CRP. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease CRP- and therefore reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Get Omega 3’s From Fish Oil
How do we get more omega 3 fats? Take FISH OIL! As a clinician I use fish oil as a basic supplement because everyone can benefit from fish oil. According to Dr Shunney, you can get enough omega 3 fats from your diet if you are eating a serving of omega 3 -rich fish each day (like sardines). However, the problems of wild fish toxicity (mercury, PCBs, ) and farmed fish toxicity (have fewer omega 3 fats, are full of pesticides, antibiotics and food dye and also toxins like PCBS! ) make that difficult to do!
For those of us (and I think there at least a few of us out there) who can’t or won’t eat a serving of healthy, non toxic, omega 3 rich fish daily, there are fortunately great fish oil supplements out there. My favorite is Nordic Naturals Arctic D Cod liver oil. I use the liquid form because I have found it to be more cost effective and easier to tolerate (no fish burps). However, if a teaspoon of fish oil daily is not your cup of tea- Nordic also carries plenty of capsulated fish oils too. Also, Dr Shunney tells us that Nordic naturals has a policy that if any of their products produce a fishy burp, you can return the bottle and get your money back. She says that a fishy after taste is a tell–tale sign of a rancid fish oil.
- For more information on sustainable fish check out Fish Wise or Nordic Naturals website which includes plenty of scientific references for the fish oil’s effect on health.
- Download: ZRT's Cardiometabolic Risk Screening Patient Handout
- Blog: National Nutrition Month - Finding Our Way Back to True Foods