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Omega-3s Ease Artery-Stiffening Impacts of Fatty Meals
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Three recent clinical trials indicate that fish oil helps to keep arteries flexible

by Craig Weatherby

When you eat a meal that’s high in fat--especially saturated fat from meats and dairy--your arteries tend to stiffen… which is not a good thing.

The resilience of arteries is measured by standards such as “endothelial function,” “vasodilation” (wide-open arteries), and “vascular reactivity.”

Poor performance with regard to any of these or other measures of arterial health indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and ensuing heart attacks or strokes.

The results of a study--sneak-previewed today from next month’s edition of the Journal of Nutrition--shows that taking fish oil with a high-fat meal keeps arteries supple (Hall WL et al. 2008).

(Of course, if most of the fat in a fatty meal is from fish, you needn’t worry about your arteries stiffening up… saturated fats are the chief artery-stiffeners.)

These results come on the heels of two similar studies published last fall and winter, which showed similar results (Armah CK et al. 2007; Wang S et al. 2007).

As the authors of one of the 2007 studies said, “Chronic [regular, long term] fish oil… [consumption is] …shown to have a positive impact on endothelial function… [and] high fat meals have often been associated with a loss of postprandial [after-meal] vascular reactivity” (Armah CK et al. 2007).

Increased consumption of the marine omega-3s abundant only in fish oil (EPA and DHA), has been persuasively linked to improved heart rhythms, reduced risk of a second heart attack, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Research like these trials continues to detail the reasons why our bodies are designed to run best on diets high in omega-3s--and lower in the competing omega-6s abundant in common vegetable oils and grain-fed meats--than most Americans consume.

The most recent trial involved a fish oil supplement manipulated to contain higher than normal levels of EPA. But the prior trials achieved similar results with fish oils containing more natural (equal) proportions of the two omega-3s, both of which are shown to produce cardiovascular benefits.

These findings suggest that if you take fish oil, it may be wise to take it with a meal… especially the fattiest meal of your day!


  • Hall WL, Sanders KA, Sanders TA, Chowienczyk PJ. A high-fat meal enriched with eicosapentaenoic acid reduces postprandial arterial stiffness measured by digital volume pulse analysis in healthy men. J Nutr. 2008 Feb;138(2):287-91.
  • Armah CK, Jackson KG, Doman I, James L, Cheghani F, Minihane AM. Fish oil fatty acids improve postprandial vascular reactivity in healthy men. Clin Sci (Lond). 2007 Dec 3; [Epub ahead of print]
  • Wang S, Ma AQ, Song SW, Quan QH, Zhao XF, Zheng XH. Fish oil supplementation improves large arterial elasticity in overweight hypertensive patients. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Sep 5; [Epub ahead of print]
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