Omega 3 fatty acids are known to be beneficial to health in a number of ways, and scientific evidence is accumulating to back up the beliefs of those who have taken it for years (in the form of fish oil). Some scientists believe that, as well as reducing the risk of sudden cardiac death, Omega 3 can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They can also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by keeping the heart healthy.
The evidence suggesting that Omega 3 fatty acids prevent heart disease is of several scientific types: epidemiological evidence and archeological evidence support the claim, as well as evidence from animal studies, observation studies, and interventional studies.
Studying populations to determine frequency and distribution of disease is known as epidemiology. Alaskan natives as well as Eskimos in Greenland and Japanese people in fishing villages have been found by scientists to have low rates of sudden cardiac death and of cardiovascular disease – this is attributed to the large amount of fish in their daily diet.
Our early Paleolithic ancestors were, according to archaeological evidence, very fit and free of coronary heart disease. Their healthiness was due partly to the active lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer, which required that they exert themselves on a daily basis in order to survive (to gather food and protect themselves from harm). Diet also played an important role. They ate natural foods which contained a great deal of fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean protein, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and Omega 3 fatty acids. At this time they would have consumed few saturated fats, no trans fats, and no refined grains and sugars.This contrasts sharply with the modern diet which usually includes a lot of processed food.
The undomesticated animals eaten in the Paleolithic period were also very different from those we eat today. Then, the meat would be rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, since the animals would graze on vegetation and algae which was itself rich in Omega 3. Our domesticated animals are fed on grain and corn, making the meat high in saturated fat but low in Omega 3 fatty acids. The same goes for farmed fish, which is usually lower in Omega 3 than wild fish.
Modern people lead more sedentary lives than the hunter-gatherers, despite the fact that we are genetically designed to be active in the way that they were. Our diets have a high quotient of saturated fats and trans fats, as well as grains and refined sugars. Such diets do not have a high level of Omega 3 fatty acids which are known to be beneficial to health. This combination of low activity and high intake of the wrong foods leads to such problems as high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease, as well as contributing to the epidemic of obesity.
When scientists performed experiments on dogs, rats and marmosets, they found that Omega 3 fatty acids could prevent ventricular fibrillation when given to animals just before heart attacks were induced – this prevented sudden death. Omega 3 was also found to halt ventricular fibrillation once it had started. This suggests there is a strong possibility Omega 3 fatty acids could work to avert ventricular fibrillation in heart attacks in humans.
Evidence from observational studies
The Nurses' health study and the Physicians' health study are large, long-term observational studies examining the relationship between dietary intake of fish oil or Omega 3 fatty acids, and the risk of sudden cardiac death and heart disease. The Physicians' study began in 1982, and followed over 20,000 healthy male physicians for 11 years. They filled out questionnaires on lifestyle and diet at 12 months and 18 months, having given data on lifestyle, diet and coronary risk factors at the study's commencement. In 1998 the results were published in JAMA (vol. 279, pg. 23) under the title 'Fish Consumption and Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death'. The findings show that men eating one or more fish portions a week had a 50% lower risk of developing sudden cardiac death, compared with men who ate fish less than once a month.
There are reams of evidence which shows the benefits of a correct balance of Omega 3 in daily diet, and more is accumulating all the time.
By David McEvoy
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Biography: Dave McEvoy is an award winning personal trainer with over 20 years experience; he also runs a high quality health supplement website.
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