Dietary supplements are a hot
button for me, and this month's topic is, without question, a hot one: fish oil supplements and omega-3 fatty acids.
Chronicle just ran a story, Have fish
oil supplements lost their luster? in
which my colleagues and I commented.
Women, in particular, are self
prescribing fish oil supplements for a garden variety of ailments: asthma, menstrual
cramps, psoriasis, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, depression, attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pregnancy complications—and yes, heart
Fish is good for hearts.
is a good source of omega-3s that are
known to benefit the hearts of healthy people as well as those at high risk of,
or already suffering from, heart and vascular disease. Omega-3s have been shown to
slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaques, to help lower blood pressure
and to decrease our risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead
to sudden cardiac death.
As adults, we can all protect our hearts by eating fatty fish
at least twice a week. I routinely recommend
the Mediterranean Diet (as discussed in the March Straight Talk) for my family and my
patients because it encourages fish and foods high in omega-3s.
Pills are not a substitute for a good diet.
the same reason, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that healthy
adults eat a variety of oily fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring
and trout, at least twice a week. For postmenopausal women and middle-aged to
older men, the benefits of fish consumption far outweigh the potential risks of
mercury contaminations outlined by the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency.
oil supplements—hook, line or sinker?
So you should get hooked on the benefits
of omega-3s, but it is preferable that you get them from your diet rather than
out of a pill bottle. And don't bite on the idea that fish oil is a magic
bullet for all ailments.
exceptions are people with elevated artery-clogging triglycerides who are
unable to sufficiently modify their diets and exercise. Fish oil supplements of
4 grams a day can help those people cut triglycerides by up to 40%. Fish oil
and fish oil supplements can slightly
lower high blood pressure, but the evidence does not support this as a
substitute for blood pressure medicine that your doctor has prescribed for you.
Take your medicine and follow doctor's orders.
We are still
studying the ways that fish oil reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and
I expect we will revisit the topic again soon. In the meantime, hit the seafood
aisle this Fourth of July.
Until next time!
Stephanie Coulter, MD
Read more from the Heart Information Center: Understanding Omega-3 Fatty Acids or "Fish Oil".
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