Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
If you have high cholesterol levels or possess other risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing heart disease, you might look to fish oil as a possible solution to improve your heart health.
Rich in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, fish oil is a common supplement because omega-3 can support your health in many different ways, including better eye health, improved mental health, and increased metabolism.
A growing debate, though, is whether or not fish oil also plays a role in cardiovascular health, especially as it pertains to your immune system strength and response.
More evidence continues to build, suggesting that fish oil helps reduce inflammation, and likewise, that inflammation itself is a cause of heart disease. Even though inflammation is a natural bodily defense against infection and injury, studies increasingly link chronic, persistent inflammation to heart disease.
Because fish oil may have anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation can lead to heart disease, it’s thought fish oil may help lessen your chances of developing heart disease.
Can fish oil really reduce inflammation? And, if so, how much should you take, and how long will it take for you to see results in your cholesterol levels?
Zizi is here with these answers for you — and more. Let’s explore fish oil, its effects on inflammation, and its potential to improve cardiovascular health, with Zizi.
How Are Inflammation and Risk of Heart Disease Linked?
Inflammation is your body’s immune response to injury, and a growing amount of evidence suggests that inflammation can lead to heart disease. Various studies indicate that inflammatory conditions or diseases, in turn, correlate with higher cardiovascular disease rates.
When it comes to heart disease, risk factors such as high cholesterol levels cause an inflammatory response that your body produces as a defense mechanism. This inflammatory response could lead to heart disease.
Atherosclerosis refers to excess cholesterol plaques, or fatty deposits, building up on your blood vessels. When this occurs, it can cause heart disease such as stroke or heart attack. The exact method behind inflammation’s association with higher instances of atherosclerosis and heart disease is unknown.
However, researchers hypothesize that inflammation could promote additional plaque buildup, loosen existing plaques, and trigger blood clots. Inflammation might also cause damage to your blood vessels’ inner lining, increasing your risk for heart attack or stroke.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is fat extracted from fish tissue. As its name implies, fish oil usually derives from oily or fatty fish such as sardines, tuna, salmon, and mackerel. These fish are more oily because as cold-water species, they have higher fat content to insulate them against their frigid living conditions.
Standard dietary suggestions usually recommend that you consume up to two portions of fish weekly for adequate nutrition.
It is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that give it its unique nutritional value. If you are unable to eat one to two servings of fish per week due to allergies or dietary restrictions, fish oil supplements can help you get enough omega-3s.
These fatty acids provide many health benefits, including protection against various diseases, by supporting your overall wellness.
What Is Omega-3?
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are an important piece of a well-balanced diet because they provide you with various health benefits. As a polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 is a nutrient critical to your bodily functions.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids. These is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA, which derive from fish oil, are the omega-3s your body most easily uses. On the contrary, ALA derives from plant oil, and your body has to convert ALA into DHA and EPA in order to yield health benefits. Even then, the benefits are still small compared to those achieved from DHA or EPA.
Can Fish Oil Reduce Inflammation?
There is no easy or simple answer to this question, as there is both evidence for and against fish oil’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Let’s explore the evidence on both sides before we discuss if fish oil dietary supplements can really reduce inflammation, and if so, how much you should take to see results.
Evidence for Fish Oil as an Anti-Inflammatory Agent
Fish Oil To Target Prostaglandins
Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can support your immune system and fight inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids already comprise the foundation for prostaglandins, which are involved in your body’s immune response to join inflammation.
Some studies even suggest that fish oils might help reduce non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) usage in the long-term. While NSAIDs are already well-established as a way to treat chronic inflammation like joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, or morning stiffness, they can have a fair amount of side effects in extreme cases. Fish oil may offer additional support for managing chronic inflammation or joint tenderness with fewer side effects.
Fish Oil as a Proinflammatory Protein Inhibitor
Researchers hypothesize that omega-3 fatty acids might hugely mitigate or reduce your body’s ability to release pro-inflammatory proteins from white blood cells, which play a role in instigating inflammation. In various studies, omega-3 instead increased the concentration of special molecules with anti-inflammatory properties.
These anti-inflammatory properties included that omega-3 helped supercharge macrophages, which helped eliminate bacteria and dead cells; omega-3 also contributed to less sticky platelets, which could make blood clots less likely to form.
Fish Oil Supplements and Prescription Medications as a Means To Lower Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
There is evidence that both fish oil supplements and fish oil prescription medications can help reduce one’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
Studies indicate that fish oil supplements containing a specific formula of omega-3 fatty acids contribute to reduced inflammatory responses; studies also display an association between daily omega-3 supplement intake and reduced risk of death from heart disease.
Other studies address fish oil prescription medications, rather than over-the-counter supplements, and have similar findings with regard to anti-inflammatory effects.
One study found that prescription medication with EPA omega-3 largely reduced heart attacks and strokes in people who were at high risk for or already had cardiovascular disease. At present, there are two FDA-approved fish oil prescription medications: one is solely made of EPA and the other two include a combination of EPA and DHA.
Evidence Against Fish Oil as an Anti-Inflammatory Agent
The same study with results showing that prescription medications with EPA omega-3 largely reduce one’s risk for cardiovascular disease also concluded that there is no data that indicates regular fish oil supplements have the same success in reducing heart attacks and stroke.
There are also a large number of different studies in general that have not found any benefits in taking omega-3 supplements for inflammation.
So, Can Fish Oil Reduce Inflammation?
As of now, there is not enough conclusive evidence to suggest that fish oil reduces inflammation specifically linked to heart disease. There is no clear research that indicates fish oil can lower inflammation to directly prevent heart attacks or stroke.
However, just because fish oil supplements do not reduce inflammation linked with heart disease, does not mean that fish oil cannot affect your risk for heart disease.
There is strong evidence that fish oil significantly reduces your blood triglyceride levels, which, if too high, increases your risk for heart disease.
As such, fish oil may help improve one of the risk factors for heart disease — high triglyceride levels — but cannot prevent heart attacks or strokes, and cannot lower your cholesterol levels.
In fact, if you take fish oil medication for your triglyceride levels, you should closely monitor your LDL cholesterol levels, as they could slightly increase from your omega-3 consumption.
What Is the Dosage of Fish Oil for Triglyceride Levels?
If you take fish oil supplements to help lower your high triglyceride levels, it will likely take several weeks at a minimum before you start to see your numbers drop.
As for the dosage, consult your doctor before starting any supplements or medication to find out what amount is right for you. Note that it is important to avoid consuming fish oil in large quantities; this will give your body too much vitamin A, and an excess of this vitamin can potentially cause liver problems or hair loss.
Fish oil does have mild side effects that accompany its consumption sometimes, including bad breath, heartburn, nausea, rashes, or diarrhea. Also, you should avoid taking fish oil supplements or medication if you are on anticoagulants because the interaction between the two will interfere with blood clotting.
Improve Your Cardiovascular Health With Zizi
While fish oil supplements may help reduce your risk for heart disease by supporting healthy triglyceride levels, there is no conclusive evidence that fish oil reduces inflammation specifically linked to heart disease.
If you have high cholesterol, fish oil is probably not the best solution. Omega-3 fatty acids do not lower cholesterol, and thus won’t be enough to protect you from heart disease.
If you are trying to lower your cholesterol levels, Zizi’s plant sterols and psyllium husk supplements may be a better option for you.
Zizi offers monthly heart monitoring without the hoops, including supplements and cholesterol and lipid testing that you can complete right at home.
Wherever you are in your journey towards better heart health, Zizi is here to guide and support you along the way. Care comes easy with Zizi, and we are here for you to keep you and your family together.
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