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Fish Oils for a Healthier Heart

written by: Janie Ellington • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 9/15/2010

Fish oil supplements are good additions to heart failure treatments and treatments for other types of heart disease. Essential fatty acids such as EPA and DHA from fatty fish are now also recommended as part of any program designed for a healthier heart or to prevent heart disease.

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    Statins Compared to Fish Oils in Heart Failure Treatment

    In a multi-center Italian study, essential fatty acid supplements, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish oils, were added to heart failure treatments in 7,000 patients with known disease. They were followed for almost four years. Patients with fish oil supplements added to their heart failure treatment were shown to gain small benefits in terms of death and hospitalizations from heart-related incidents.3

    The same Italian research group described above studied 4,500 patients with heart failure who were receiving a statin drug but no fish oil supplements. The patients were followed for almost four years. Patients were administered 10 mg daily of a drug called rosuvastatin as part of their regular heart failure treatment. No benefits for survival time or decreased hospitalizations were found in the heart failure patients receiving the statin drug therapy.4

    Another study evaluating statin drug therapy in over 5,000 older patients with heart failure involving inadequate heart output failed to show benefits of decreased deaths with rosuvastatin over placebo.5

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    Fish Oil Benefits for Coronary Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death

    More than half of all deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) and sudden cardiac death (SCD) occur in people not previously known to have heart disease. This fact points to the importance of lifestyle choices that can be safely incorporated to help prevent heart disease. 1 Fish oil benefits in healthy individuals warrant fish oil supplementation as part of a lifestyle aimed at having a healthier heart.8

    Several studies, with differing designs, all confirmed added fish oil benefits in decreasing risks for CHD and SCD in patients with known heart disease. In fact the risk for death from CHD was shown to be 36% lower in patients receiving a fish oil supplement.1

    People with heart disease receive fish oil benefits that include decreased incidence of irregular heart rate, decreased triglyceride levels, decreased plaque formation in blood vessels, and lower blood pressure.2

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    How to Take Fish Oil for Heart Health

    For a healthier heart, the American Heart Association recommends consumption of oily fish that is rich in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids at least twice weekly. It is hoped that eating fish at least twice weekly will decrease the consumption of foods high in saturated fats and other unhealthy fats. People who follow this advice should pay attention to how the fish is prepared, particularly avoiding frying in unhealthy saturated fats or hydrogenated fats. Care should also be taken to avoid using sauces containing these types of fats. Consuming more fish may inadvertently increase consumption of mercury and other unhealthy compounds. Fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish are thought more likely to contain higher levels of mercury. Lower mercury concentrations are expected in canned light tuna, salmon, and Pollock.6

    The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that all patients at risk for cardiovascular disease use omega-3 oils. The only exceptions noted are in patients with a certain type of heart defibrillator in whom strong benefits have not been shown.7

    The ADA cites a daily dose of EPA/DHA between 200 mg to 250 mg as part of a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease.7

    Known heart disease patients should receive a higher dose of 1,000 mg (1 gram) EPA/DHA daily. It may not be practical to satisfy higher intake recommendations solely through dietary sources. A fish oil supplement may be necessary. This higher dose may be helpful in decreasing heart rate and lowering blood pressure and may help prevent abnormal clotting. This dose also may offer benefits such as protection against certain types of stroke, heart attack, plaque formation in arteries, irregular heart rate, and congestive heart failure.7

    Patients with high triglycerides may even receive essential fatty acid supplement doses in the range of 2 to 4 grams of EPA/DHA daily.7

    People who are taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs should always take fish oil supplementation under the supervision of their doctors and pharmacists due to potential for drug interactions, especially with medications that thin the blood.7 Fish oil supplements will need to be discontinued before some types of surgery.

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    Disclaimer

    The information in this article should not be considered medical advice. The information in this article is not meant to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always check with your physician before taking any products or following any advice you have read on Brighthub.com. Always consult your doctor before you start, stop or change anything that has been previously prescribed. Certain herbs and holistic remedies are unsuitable to take if you are pregnant or nursing and must always be cleared by your doctor before use.

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    Sources

    1. Dariush Mozaffarian. "Beyond cholesterol: Prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease with n–3 Fatty acids. Fish and n–3 fatty acids for the prevention of fatal coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 87.6 (June 2008):1991S-1996S. 21 November 2008. <http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/87/6/1991S?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=fish+oil+heart+failure&andorexactfulltext=and&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT>. (free full text)

    2. "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids." Recommendation Page. American Heart Association. 21 Nov 2008.<http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4632>.

    3. GISSI-HF Investigators."Effect of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in patients with chronic heart failure (the GISSI-HF trial): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial." The Lancet 372.9645 (4 Oct 2008): 1223-1230. 21 Nov 2008. <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(08)61239-8/fulltext#article_upsell>. (Summary)

    4. GISSI-HF Investigators. "Effect of rosuvastatin in patients with chronic heart failure (the GISSI-HF trial): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial." The Lancet 372.9645 (4 Oct 2008): 1231-1239. 21 Nov 2008. <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(08)61240-4/fulltext#article_upsell>. (Summary)

    5. Kjekshus, John, et al. "Rosuvastatin in older patients with systolic heart failure." The New England Journal of Medicine 357.22 (29 Nov 2007): 2248-2261. 21 Nov 2008. <http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/22/2248>. (Free full text)

    6. Lichtenstein, Alice H., et al. "Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association nutrition committee." Circulation 114 (2006): 82-96. 21 Nov 2008. <http://www.circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/114/1/82>. (Free full text)

    7. Ryan, Bradley. "Recommending omega-3 Oils for patients with heart risks." Doc News 4.2 (1 Feb 2007): 4. 21 Nov 2008.<http://docnews.diabetesjournals.org/cgi/content/full/4/2/4?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=fish+oil+heart+failure&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT> (Free full text)

    8. Kris-Etherton, Penny M., et al. "AHA scientific statement: Fish consumption, fish Oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease." Circulation 106 (2002): 2747-2757. 21 Nov 2008.<http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/106/21/2747?ijkey=f8d4e281fcdc2aeda2aa147e7610b7302dcf4d97&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha>.(Free full text)