Heart Health

25 April 2012

Why fish oil is good for the heart

A small new study may rule out one possible mechanism behind omega-3 fatty acids' healthy effects on the heart.


A small new study may rule out one possible mechanism behind omega-3 fatty acids' healthy effects on the heart.

It's been established that omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as fish oil, help prevent cardiovascular disease (conditions of the heart and blood vessels), as well as heart attacks and strokes in people who already have cardiovascular disease.

The evidence is so strong that the American Heart Association recommends eating fish or taking fish oil as a preventive measure both for healthy people and cardiovascular-disease patients.

The ways in which omega-3 fatty acids provide these heart-healthy benefits, however, aren't known.

How the study was done

In the new study, researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine investigated if omega-3s might improve cardiac diastolic function - the ability of the heart to relax and refill with blood at each beat. This ability declines with age.

The researchers used echocardiograms to assess heart structure and function in 11 healthy men and women with an average age 66 at the start of the study. The participants took daily omega-3 supplements for 12 weeks, and then had another echocardiogram.

The results showed that taking the omega-3 supplements did not change diastolic function in the participants. This suggests that the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids may occur in other areas of heart function, the researchers said.

The findings should not discourage people from taking fish oil or other omega-3 supplements for heart health, researcher Kevin Monahan said in a Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology news release.

"I don't think there's any reason to stop taking fish oil based on our data," he said in the release. "From a big-picture standpoint, we know that consumption of fish and fish oil reduces cardiac disease risk and mortality. Just because omega-3 supplements don't improve diastolic function over 12 weeks in this population doesn't mean that these nutrients don't exert other important cardiac effects."

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Read more:
You heart and your diet

More information

The American Heart Association offers advice about heart-healthy nutrition.

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