The past month brought a bounty of new research into the heart-health benefits of omega-3s ... all of it encouraging and bearing practical implications.
In fact, we can’t fit all of the findings into today’s issue of Vital Choices, so next week we’ll cover two more studies of major significance.
For today’s report, we’ll start with the omega-3 daily intake that’s linked to a one-third reduction in the risk of Sudden Cardiac Death, and then review a clinical trial that examined the effects of omega-3s on clots caused by artery stents.
Modest omega-3 intake linked to reduced risk of Sudden Cardiac Death
Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) accounts for half of all heart-related fatalities, so it seems critical for scientists to pinpoint the minimum daily omega-3 (EPA+DHA) intake needed to reduce that risk substantially.
New findings match expert panels’ omega-3 advice
The conclusion by authors of a new evidence review – that 250mg of omega-3 EPA+DHA per day can reduce the risk of Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) by 35 percent – fits well with prior heart-related intake recommendations by expert bodies.
The American Heart Association recommends that heart patients take 1,000mg of omega-3 EPA+DHA per day.
And the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating eight to 12 ounces of seafood per week, “… which provide an average consumption of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA.”
Likewise, in 2009, the European Food Safety Authority called 250mg daily the “reference” intake value for EPA and DHA, meaning that 250mg/day is the minimum needed to help maintain good heart and overall health.
What about the “optimal” daily intake, to promote optimal heart and overall health? The recommendations offered by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) range from 260mg to 660mg per day (see “How Much Sockeye Salmon Oil Should I Take?”).
A combined university-industry research team conducted a new “meta-analysis” of data from eight existing population studies, and concluded that 250mg per day is the minimum dose of omega-3s needed to reduce the risk of Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) by 35 percent (Musa-Veloso K et al. 2011).
Their analysis also indicates that 250mg of omega-3s per day reduces the risk of “total fatal coronary events” by 17 percent.
Accordingly, the study's authors say that 250mg per day “may, indeed, be a minimum target to be achieved by the general population for the promotion of cardiovascular health.” (Musa-Veloso K et al. 2011)
However, as co-author Harry Rice, Ph.D., said, their results “suggest that 250 mg/day EPA + DHA should be considered a minimum, not an optimum, level of consumption.” (Mitchell D 2011)
Dr. Rice is VP of scientific affairs for the fish oil trade group that funded the review – the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) – which was conducted by scientists from the University of Toronto and various fish oil makers.
While industry funding and participation should be noted, the results are in line with the findings of official bodies worldwide.
The difference is that this review pinpoints the daily omega-3 intake needed to drop the risk of Sudden Cardiac Death by more than one-third … a very important piece of information.
Omega-3s help prevent and dissolve blood clots in patients with artery stents
Omega-3 fish fats may reduce the risk of dangerous clotting among angioplasty patients with stents in their arms, according to a controlled trial in 54 patients from Poland’s Jagiellonian University.
What is Sudden Cardiac Death?
Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) accounts for half of all heart-related fatalities, and is usually caused by erratic heart rhythms (arrhythmias) that make the heart stop working.
Sudden Cardiac Death can – and typically does – occur in the absence of a heart attack or any prior warning of heart problems.
A heart attack (myocardial infarction) usually occurs either when a coronary artery is clogged by a clot, or when heart muscles weakened by years of inadequate blood supply can’t keep pumping hard enough.
Heart attacks are not always or even usually fatal, but they can cause the sequence of arrhythmia and cardiac arrest that leads to death.
The results show that when combined with two blood-thinning drugs, omega-3s can make significant, beneficial changes to the blood clotting process.
This double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study occurred in patients undergoing angioplasty who received standard drug therapy and were assigned to take 1 gram of omega-3s per day (30 patients) or placebo capsules (24 patients) for one month.
The patients were encouraged to increase their intake of oily fish, and to take clot-preventing/busting drugs (aspirin and clopidogrel).
The authors noted that while both groups showed some blood clots, there were fewer clots in the omega-3 group, and those clots were more susceptible to destruction by anti-clotting drugs and showed less oxidative stress (free radical damage) compared with clots in the placebo group.
Their dry description of the findings underplays the potential importance of their findings:
“Adding n-3 PUFA [omega-3s] to standard therapy in stable patients undergoing PCI [angioplasty] significantly decreases thrombin [clot] formation and oxidative stress and favorably alters fibrin clot properties. These findings indicate novel antithrombotic effects induced by n-3 PUFA [omega-3s] in humans.” (Gajos G et al. 2011)
Lead author Dr. Grzegorz Gajos made it a bit clearer when he said, “Our study suggests that combined moderate anti-thrombotic [blood clotting] and anti-platelet [blood stickiness-reducing] actions of omega-3, when added to those of other treatments, may improve outcomes for coronary artery disease patients.”
Given the growing number of artery stent placements, this seems to us like a pretty big understatement.
And the Polish team’s findings indicate that omega-3s might allow people to be prescribed lower doses of aspirin, clopidogrel, and other clot-busting drugs, which have serious adverse side effects.
Gajos G, Zalewski J, Rostoff P, Nessler J, Piwowarska W, Undas A. Reduced Thrombin Formation and Altered Fibrin Clot Properties Induced by Polyunsaturated Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Top of Dual Antiplatelet Therapy in Patients Undergoing Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (OMEGA-PCI Clot). Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2011 May 26. [Epub ahead of print]
Mitchell D. Omega-3 Dose of 250 mg Needed to Protect Your Heart. eMaxhealth. June 6, 2011. Accessed at http://www.emaxhealth.com/1275/omega-3-dose-250-mg-needed-protect-your-heart
Musa-Veloso K et al. Impact of low v. moderate intakes of long-chain n-3 fatty acids on risk of coronary heart disease. British Journal of Nutrition 2011. Published online: 31 May 2011. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511001644. Accessed at http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8279854