For the past three decades, researchers have firmly established that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have healthy effects on the heart. Omega-3s appear to help prevent cardiovascular disease as well as preventing future heart attacks, strokes, and other adverse events in people with established cardiovascular diseases. So strong were these results that the American Heart Association now recommends eating fish or taking fish oil as a preventative measure for both healthy individuals and those with cardiovascular disease. However, the mechanism behind the healthy effects of omega-3s is not yet known.
In a new study, Zhaohui Gao, Robert P. Feehan, Lawrence I. Sinoway, and Kevin D. Monahan of Penn State College of Medicine looked at whether some of the benefits of omega-3 could be based on improving diastolic heart function – the ability of The heart is said to relax and efficiently fill up with blood with each beat, which decreases with age. Their results show that taking an omega-3 supplement daily for three months did not change diastolic function in older adults, suggesting that omega-3’s benefits may be due to other aspects of cardiovascular function .
An abstract of their study, “Three Month Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Does Not Improve Cardiac Diastolic Function in Healthy Older Adults,” will be discussed at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting April 21-25 at the San Diego Convention Center.
No Effect on Diastolic Function To investigate the effects of omega-3 on diastolic function, researchers recruited 11 healthy adults with a mean age of 66 years – an age group where hearts show signs of aging, including diastolic dysfunction. The researchers gave these volunteers, almost equally divided between men and women, echocardiograms to measure heart structure and function. This echocardiogram included traditional Doppler measurements as well as state-of-the-art tissue Doppler imaging and 2D speckle tracking imaging, two newer technologies that allow for more detailed views of the heart.
For the next 12 weeks, these volunteers took omega-3 supplements containing 1.9 g EPA and 1.5 g DHA daily. The researchers then repeated the echocardiograms.
The results show that the volunteers had no detectable improvements in diastolic function between the first and second scans, says study leader Kevin Monahan, Ph.D., suggesting that fish oil did not alter this important parameter of heart health.
Maintain the Fish Oil However, according to Monahan, the results shouldn’t deter people from taking fish oil or other omega-3 supplements for heart health. “I don’t think there is a reason to stop taking fish oil based on our data,” he says. “From the big picture, we know that consuming fish and fish oil reduces the risk and mortality of heart disease. Just because omega-3 supplements don’t improve diastolic function in this population over 12 weeks doesn’t mean these nutrients aren’t available.” have no other important cardiac effects. “
He notes that a longer study may produce clearer results on diastolic function, or that omega-3s can have more profound effects on other aspects of heart function and prevent heart disease in other ways.
Diastolic dysfunction can be a harbinger of heart failure, says Monahan, causing symptoms like shortness of breath and excessive fatigue with physical activity. Heart failure is a widespread and expensive disease in the United States with an estimated cost in the tens of billions.
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