Omega-3 Fats and Lowering the Risk of Heart Disease

One of the mechanisms researchers have investigated as to the role omega 3 fats play in lowering the risk of heart disease is their ability to lower blood levels of triglycerides.  Triglycerides are molecules of fat floating around in our blood. If our triglyceride levels get too high they can impair our blood circulation which can increase our risk of heart disease.

There are several causes to having elevated triglyceride levels.  Some people do have a genetic predisposition to developing high triglyceride levels.  The majority of cases however are directly linked to diet.  Excessive juice, pop, alcohol, high sugar foods, overall calories and high blood sugar levels can all increase our triglyceride level.  My role in helping people with high triglyceride levels includes decreasing their intake of all of the above mentioned foods and beverages.  For people with diabetes it includes improving their blood sugar control through diet and exercise.

Increasing the consumption of omega 3 fats is also standard therapy for people with high triglyceride levels.  Past research have shown mixed results: some people experience a significant reduction in triglyceride levels on omega 3 fats and others do not. The reason why has been unclear until recently.

A study published in 2010 showed that the effect of omega 3 fat has on triglyceride levels depends on a variation in the NOS3 gene.  This gene directs the production of an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase.  This enzyme is responsible for making nitric oxide, which plays a role in the function of cells that line our blood vessels.  The researchers found that this gene impacts how your body processes triglycerides.  If you have the GT or TT variant of this gene you will be at greater risk of having  high triglyceride levels if you do not consume enough omega 3 fats.

I happen to have this gene variant so I need to make sure I am consuming enough omega 3 fats in my diet.  The good news is I like fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna or rainbow trout) and though I am not perfect, I do aim to have 2-3 servings of weekly.  I have not been the biggest fan of sardines or mackerel but I am going to mash them up like I do canned salmon and try them in a sandwich.

Our body has to convert the omega 3 fats from plant sources such as flaxseed, walnuts and canola or soybean oil to the EPA and DHA form that will lower triglyceride levels.  Research studies have shown our body converts less than 10% which is really not that efficient.  However, any conversion is beneficial especially for people who do not like fish or are vegetarian.  I just encourage people to be mindful of portion sizes of these items as they are very dense in calories and can add up quickly.

Supplements are definitely an option but I always leave them to the last since I firmly believe you can accomplish a great deal with a wholesome diet.

I am off to trial a sardine and mackerel sandwich.  If you have any suggestions for me, please let me know!  I will update you next week which one was my favorite.