You’ve survived a heart attack. But you’re worried—could another one be waiting to happen? After all, it’s a vulnerable time. As your surviving heart muscle works harder to compensate for damaged tissue, you can experience further scarring and inflammation that can weaken your heart even more. But there’s a simple, safe, natural, food-based supplement that cardiologists now recommend that can greatly improve your odds of keeping your heart healthy. And while it’s no surprise that omega-3s are linked with heart health, this is different—a particular kind and dose of omega-3 could literally keep you alive. Here’s how to save your heart in three seconds a day…
OMEGA-3 FOR A BROKEN HEART
Omega-3 fatty acids, the kind primarily found in cold-water fish such as salmon, have had a heart-healthy reputation for a long time. It’s good for your heart to eat fish twice a week or, if you don’t eat fish, to add other omega-3-rich–foods to your diet. And omega-3 supplements have been shown to reduce the risk for irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and prevent related fatalities, as well as reduce high triglycerides and high blood pressure, although there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether taking them helps healthy people prevent heart disease, according to NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
The latest research makes it clear that there is at least one group of people for whom the benefits of high doses of omega-3s are extraordinarily powerful—people who’ve had a heart attack.
EIGHT OUNCES OF SALMON IN A PILL
In this study, 358 patients who had had heart attacks were randomly assigned to take four grams of purified prescription-only omega-3 fatty acids (about the amount found in eight ounces of salmon) or a placebo (a capsule of corn oil) each day for six months. They started within one month of the heart attack. The researchers wanted to know how omega-3 fatty acids affected…
• The left ventricle of the heart, which usually deteriorates after a heart attack
• The size of the area damaged by their heart attacks, which can enlarge after a heart attack
• Signs of inflammation.
Results: Compared with placebo, the omega-3 fatty acids were a powerhouse of heart help. Patients taking omega-3 fatty acids were 39% less likely to show deterioration in heart function than those taking placebo. Their hearts also showed much less scarring—very important because the more scarred the heart tissue is, the less well it functions. The omega-3 fatty acids also had a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, with inflammatory enzymes being way down in patients in the omega-3 group compared with patients in the placebo group.
TAKE THESE RESULTS TO HEART
Four grams of omega-3 fatty acids is a high dose—for Americans. The study researchers noted that most Americans do not get the amount of omega-3 they need, in large part because we don’t eat oily fish such as sardines, tuna, trout and salmon twice a week as recommended by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. In fact, in the study of heart attack survivors, omega-3 blood levels in patients in the high-dose omega-3 group increased quite a bit, but only up to the same levels generally seen among some populations in Japan whose diet is rich in fish—and who have lower risks for heart disease and sudden death from heart attack than Americans.
Nor did the researchers report any side effects, such as interference with blood clotting, which is a concern since omega-3s are natural anticoagulants. Still, check with your doctor before taking high-dose omega-3s, especially if you are on a blood thinner. These researchers used a prescription-only form of omega-3 supplement, Lovaza, which is FDA-approved for reducing high triglyceride levels. There are many good omega-3 supplements on the market, but you’ll want to see what your insurance will cover.
All of us can safely benefit from improving our blood levels of omega-3s by eating fatty fish twice a week or by getting omega-3s from other foods. But if you’ve had a heart attack or know someone who has, a discussion with the cardiologist about taking four grams of omega-3s in a supplement might be a lifesaving conversation.