The occasional lone study suggests that fish oil doesn’t do much to improve heart health, but a recent meta study trumps all the naysayers.
Let’s dispense with the usual statistics about chronic heart failure (CHF) that precede nearly every article about heart disease. I know CHF is depressingly common and you know it’s depressingly common, so let’s move on to see if there’s anything we, as individuals, can do to prevent it.
It seems there is. A recent meta-analysis (where they take a bunch of studies and compile the results) showed that taking modest amounts of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (from fish oil (on Amazon)) improved left ventricular function and prevented left ventricular “remodeling,” which is a major factor in CHF.
The left ventricle is one of the four chambers of the heart and it’s located at the bottom left part of the organ. It receives oxygenated blood from the left atrium (which is smack dab above it) and pumps it out to the body. Given its function, it’s the most muscular of the heart chambers.
Unfortunately, age and a host of contributing factors causes the left ventricle to thicken and alter shape (remodeling), causing its “ejection fraction” (the amount of blood it pumps out) to suffer.
You’d think that having parts of the heart be thicker or more muscular would be a good thing, but not in this case. A thickening of the left ventricle makes it less pliable, less able to sloosh the right volume of blood through your arterial system (what’s known as the “ejection fraction”).
Now, if you were to ask 100 cardiologists what it was that causes this thickening, or for that matter, heart disease in general, around 95 of them would probably answer inflammation, and that’s absolutely the case here. Several pro-inflammatory cytokines (any of several substances that are secreted by specialized cells of the immune system that influence other cells) are directly implicated in this thickening of the left ventricle. These bad-boy cytokines include tumor necrosis factor, interferon gamma, interleukin-1beta, and interleukins 6,17, and 18.
Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fish oil), however, appear to put a spoke in the wheels of these cytokines and prevent or ameliorate left ventricular remodeling.
The meta-analysis conducted by Jing Liu and his colleagues included 12 separate studies comprising 2,162 participants. After compiling the stats, they concluded that omega-3 fatty acids improved left ventricular ejection fraction by reducing circulating levels of the aforementioned inflammatory cytokines.
This improvement seemed to be dependent on accumulated dosage (daily intake coupled with duration), benefits becoming more prominent when total intake reached at least 600 grams of omega-3’s.
Not wanting to hang their positive estimation of omega-3 fatty acids on a single thread, the authors pointed to multiple other studies that showed that omega-3 fatty acids had other superpowers, too. These superpowers included the modification of cardiac ion channels, improvement of vascular endothelium, modulation of autonomic nervous system activity, and enhancement of cardiac energy metabolism.
If you’re not one of those guys who frequently dines at the Heart Attack Grill, then you probably care about your heart and should supplement your diet with fish oils, which are the predominant source of omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re rich or have an accommodating doctor and really good medical insurance, consider going for the prescription stuff. However, if you’re a regular working stiff and don’t have a Cadillac insurance plan, use Biotest’s Flameout (on Amazon).
It uses the same molecular distillation process as the prescription brands and 4 capsules of Flameout will give you approximately the same amount of omega-3’s as four capsules of Lovaza (a leading prescription omega-3 product) at about 1/6th the price.
- Liu J et al. Effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on left ventricular remodeling in chronic heart failure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2022 Mar 4;1-35. PubMed.