Few areas in medicine are studied more than cardiovascular health. And among dietary supplements studied, only one has been recommended by the American Heart Association in the treatment of issues related to cardiovascular health. That supplement is fish oil.
Interest in fish came out of population studies that noted a lower rate of heart attacks and strokes among Greenland Eskimos and Japanese populations. Both groups have diets high in fish content.
The benefit of fish oil stems from two omega-3 fatty acid components, EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are incorporated into the cell structures of your body, especially in the heart and brain, where they have been found to stabilize and protect the cell structures.
Large long-term studies found that the incidence of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and heart attacks was 30 to 40 percent lower in people who consumed fish regularly.
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One 30-year study found that men who consumed 35 grams of fish daily had a 40 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular diseases. Another study found that women who consumed fish two to four times per week had a 31 percent lower risk compared with women who did not consume fish regularly.
Randomized controlled trials and observational studies among patients who have suffered cardiovascular events such as heart attacks suggest that fish oil also helps reduce mortality rates with few side effects.
Fish oil is also a highly effective treatment for people with elevated triglycerides, with an effect comparable to triglyceride-reducing medications. Side effects may include a fishy burp and heartburn. However, studies show that fish oil potentially increases bleeding time.
You can achieve the same benefit of fish oil tablets by eating two or more servings of fish per week. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel are recommended, while frozen and fried fish should be avoided. (Unfortunately, fried fish fillet sandwiches at the popular fast-food restaurants down the street do not count!)
For those who have difficulty preparing or eating fish, 1-gram supplements containing DHA and EPA may be taken for cardiovascular risk prevention, with high doses necessary for treatment of triglycerides.
Talk to your doctor to see if fish oil supplementation is for you.