2005 David McEvoy
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
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.
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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