Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death among women? For many years we thought of heart disease as being a disease that primarily affected men, but the prevalence of heart disease is actually equal for men and women. Unfortunately, two-thirds of- the women who die suddenly of heart disease had no previous symptoms. Active prevention through lifestyle and yearly wellness exams are essential to minimizing your risk of heart disease.
Among the risks that contribute to heart disease, uncontrolled high blood pressure is number one. High blood pressure is asymptomatic, meaning that you will not know if you have it unless you proactively check for it. Why does high blood pressure greatly contribute to heart disease? Our blood vessels are supposed to be flexible and resilient to the constant pressure of coursing blood. Risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, obesity, and diabetes stiffen the vessels, and as a result the heart needs to work harder to pump blood through the body. This causes a rise in blood pressure. The decrease in flexibility and the rise in pressure cause damage to the vessels and plaques start to form. This is known as atherosclerosis or heart disease.
How does fish oil help lower your risk for heart disease?
A scientist named Hugh Sinclair was the first to initiate interest in fish oil as a preventative strategy for coronary heart disease. In the 1970s he recognized the Inuit population in Greenland was eating almost a pound of fish per day, which gave them roughly 14 grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day. He compared this to another group called the Danes, which were only getting 3 grams a day. He found that the Inuit’s risk of heart disease was 10 times lower! When he compared the heart disease risk markers he found significant differences in fatty acid profiles of platelets, triglycerides, LDL and HDL/cholesterol ratio. He tried the Inuit diet himself in 1977, and all his markers improved considerably and his blood pressure lowered.
Today the research has shown omega-3 fatty acids to reduce high blood pressure. Just 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day decreased systolic blood pressure by an average of 5 points. Most of the studies were less then 3 months long, suggesting that continuation of fish oil intake may continue to help lower blood pressure. In addition to lowering blood pressure, omega-3s has shown to decrease cholesterol and triglycerides. These two blood markers are highly correlated with heart disease risk.
In addition, studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is helpful in reducing risk for heart disease. One of the main staples of the diet is fish. The American Heart Association suggests an intake of fish at least 2 times a week. Sources of omega 3s can be found in wild caught salmon, tuna, halibut, and other seafood such as algae, krill. Although consistency can be difficult for the most disciplined person, it may be ideal to have a daily fish oil supplement that contains 3-4 grams of EPA/DHA. It is important to talk to a naturopathic physician before starting a higher dose to ensure it is right for you.
Written by Haylee Nye, NCNM Naturopathic Medicine Program. Edited by Dr. Elise Schroeder
Appel, Lawrence J., et al. “Does Supplementation of Diet With ‘Fish Oil’ Reduce Blood Pressure?: A Meta-analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials.” Archives of Internal Medicine 153.12 (1993): 1429-1438.
Strøm, Marin, et al. “Fish, n-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Diseases in Women of Reproductive Age A Prospective Study in a Large National Cohort.” Hypertension 59.1 (2012): 36-43.