DHA PROMOTES A HEALTHY HEART
Fish oil has achieved medical prominence primarily due to its ability to reduce heart disease in fish-eating populations such as Eskimos and Japanese. Even in Japan, fishermen have lower blood pressure and lower incidence of heart disease than do farmers. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are the fish oil components held responsible for these benefits. EPA and DHA are elevated in blood plasma and in cell membranes at the expense of the omega-6 fat arachidonic acid in Eskimos and Japanese.
There has been controversy over whether the cardiovascular benefits of fish oil are more due to EPA or DHA or whether both are of equal benefit. Some studies have indicated that EPA is more effective for lowering blood triglycerides. But a recent large, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed a triglyceride decrease of 26% for subjects taking DHA, in contrast to a 21% decrease for those taking EPA. Both DHA and EPA lower triglycerides by reducing the rate of fatty acid synthesis in the liver.
Purified DHA has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce blood viscosity. The evidence indicates that DHA increases red blood cell membrane fluidity, thereby increasing the deformability of the blood cells so that they can move through capillaries more easily and thereby lower blood viscosity and blood pressure. DHA may also reduce blood pressure by lowering cortisol.
The most dramatic effects of fish oil on the heart, however, are in connection with cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). In the United States, a quarter of a million people die annually within an hour of a heart attack as a result of arrhythmia. The protective effect of fish oil against cardiac arrhythmias has been strikingly illustrated by two similar experiments, one performed on rats and the other on marmoset monkeys. Middle-aged animals were fed sheep fat (saturated fat), sunflower seed oil (omega-6) or fish oil (omega-3) for 12 weeks (for rats) or for 24-30 months (for monkeys). With both rats and monkeys arrhythmia was produced in over 40% of the animals fed sheep fat, roughly 10% of the animals fed safflower oil and in none of the animals who were fed fish oil.
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