Cardiovascular disease steadfastly remains the number-one killer of men and women in the US. It now accounts for over 50 percent of all deaths. But over 100 years ago, cardiovascular disease was responsible for only 15 percent of deaths. One of the reasons for this dramatic increase in cardiovascular disease has to do with our diet—specifically the kind of fat we eat. Over 100 years ago, it is estimated that 60 percent of our fat consumption was in the form of omega-6 oils (like corn and safflower oil) and 40 percent was in the form of omega-3 oils (like fish and flaxseed oil).
How does this deficit of omega-6 and omega-3 oils contribute to cardiovascular disease? It is well established that inflammation in the body plays a role in the development of plaque in the arteries. Research has shown that you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing inflammation. And at the risk of oversimplifying matters, you can think of omega-6 fatty acids as promoting inflammation and omega-3 fatty acids as retarding it. It’s rather obvious that one way to reduce inflammation would be to increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
Consuming certain fish oils, particularly EPA, can help lower the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and clogging in the arteries. Unfortunately, most people still haven’t changed their diets to include fish two or three times a week. I would also encourage you to supplement your diet with additional omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oils, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), have recently been the center of attention when it comes to preventing heart disease. Studies have shown that by simply eating at least two ounces of fish a week, you could cut the risk of heart disease in half. (NEJM 85;May 9::1205.) The best sources of EPA are the higher-fat fish like salmon and tuna. If you happen to be a vegetarian, one of the best sources is spirulina, a blue-green algae that can now be found in supplement form in health food stores.
Fish oil has been shown to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. It decreases the stickiness of blood cells and helps prevent the formation of abnormal clots. It has even been shown to reduce angina pain and reduce the tissue damage associated with strokes and heart attacks.
Researchers have tested the use of fish oil to see if it had any effect on angioplasty patients. About half of 205 patients who were undergoing angioplasty for the first time were given 15 capsules of Max-EPA fish oil (15 grams a day). The other half received capsules filled with olive oil. They took the capsules three weeks before and six months following angioplasty. At the end of six months, all patients were re-examined using angiography. Researchers discovered that those patients taking the fish oil had only half the restenosis (reclosing of the arteries) as those taking the olive oil.
You would think the use of fish oil capsules would become standard procedure in these cases, especially since none of the drugs tested have shown to be any help. Unfortunately, however, not all the previous research studies indicate that fish oil helps. And most of this research has focused on lower dosages (in the 4–10 grams-a-day range), which is not nearly enough to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
In addition to fish and flaxseed one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids is also from the Salvia hispanica plant, also known as chia.
From all indications and research, chia works just as well as fish oil when it comes to lowering levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, while raising beneficial HDL cholesterol. Another study found that chia consumption not only raised HDL cholesterol levels, but also effectively improved the overall omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Conventional medicine is finally recognizing the role of inflammation in causing cardiovascular disease, and drugs are being promoted as the answer. Statins, traditionally used to lower cholesterol, can lower C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body. Some doctors even feel that the best way to prevent heart disease is to prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics to knock out any infections and their resulting inflammation. The media has hailed this as a breakthrough and a sure-fire method to rid society of heart disease. But these approaches treat the symptom and not the cause. Unless it is absolutely necessary, I can’t see why anyone would want to take any drug for a lifetime.
Indeed, the study showed that Crestor use reduced CRP levels by 37 percent during the 2-year study period. But the study did not address the findings of other studies on the dangers of statins. I’ve written about these dangers on several occasions. Probably the most serious side effect is nerve degeneration, and I have no doubt that disruption of cholesterol production with statins can lead to a variety of neurological problems, including senility, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and even ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Fortunately, there are much safer ways of reducing inflammation like increasing one’s intake of omega-3 fatty acids through supplement and consumption of fish, flax seed, and chia. In addition, exercise, maintaining healthy teeth and gums, and adding fiber to your diet can all help in keeping inflammation under control. There are also several natural anti-inflammatory compounds that you can supplement with or add to your diet.
Now it's your turn: How do you make sure you get your omega fatty acids?