Omega-3 science

Brain scans point to the significance of Omega-3 in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease

A SPECT scan (special brain scan) can be used to produce images of the cerebral blood flow. American researchers used this method on a sample of 166 patients to test their memory, attention span, reasoning and learning capacity (WebNeuro test).
The Omega-3 Index of all participants was known. The Omega-3 Index shows the concentration of EPA and DHA (Omega-3 fatty acids) in red blood cells, i.e. an individual’s Omega-3 status.

The results of the test were remarkable. Participants with a higher Omega-3 Index gained the highest scores in the WebNeuro test and their cerebral blood flow was better than in participants with a lower Omega-3 Index. Specific regions of the brain displayed a better blood flow: the ‘parahippocampal gyrus’ (this region of the brain plays an important part in memory encoding and retrieval), the ‘precuneus’ (region of the brain relating to our ability to concentrate) and the ‘vermis’ (region of the brain affecting posture).
The study led researchers to conclude that the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA play an important part in the brain’s physiology, i.e. keep cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning and learning healthy for longer.

Source: Amen DG, Harris WS, Kidd PM, Meysami S, Raji CA. Quantitative Erythrocyte Omega-3 EPA Plus DHA Levels are Related to Higher Regional Cerebral Blood Flow on Brain SPECT. J Alzheimers Dis 2017 May 18.

Middle-aged women do not take in enough Omega-3 to keep their heart healthy.

Middle-aged women (aged 40-60) are not sufficiently aware that they are at greater risk of heart and cardiovascular disease than they were in their twenties. After the menopause the heart and blood vessel protecting oestrogen hormones disappear. Amongst other things, they helped to maintain the store of Omega-3 EPA and DHA in the body, which had a positive effect on heart health.

EPA and DHA are the Omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and fish oil capsules. The good news is that we can all maintain our Omega-3 store by adapting our diet and using fish oil capsules. This Omega-3 store can be measured using a blood sample. To do so the EPA and DHA content in the cell membranes of red blood cells is measured, converted into a percentage of the total fatty acid composition and referred to as the Omega-3 Index.
An Omega-3 Index ≥ 8% protects against sudden fatal cardiac arrest. People with an Omega-3 Index ≤4% are at severe risk of developing heart problems as well as memory loss and symptoms of depression.
In Germany a group of scientists at the University of Hannover, in conjunction with gynaecologists and general practitioners at 125 different locations, tested the Omega-3 Index of 446 women (aged 40-60). The results were disturbing. No less than 97.3% of the women had an Omega-3 Index below 8%. 62.8% of the participants had an Omega-3 Index between 4 and 6%, whilst 9% had an Omega-3 Index ≤4%.
This implies that the majority of middle-aged women in Germany (almost 70%) are at greater risk of developing heart problems. An increase in their Omega-3 intake would definitely be advisable and any potential heart problems could be monitored using a simple blood analysis (Omega-3 Index).

Source: Gellert S, Schuchardt JP, Hahn A. Low long chain omega-3 fatty acid status in middle-aged women. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, published online January 25, 2017; 117:54-9. 

High dose of Omega-3 following a heart attack linked to a more favourable prognosis

The heart needs to recover as effectively as possible after a heart attack. It is of the utmost importance that the infarct should not affect healthy heart muscle tissue, which could lead to scar tissue. Moreover, any dilation of the left ventricle should be kept to a minimum. This is referred to as remodelling, a process in which the size, shape and thickness of the left ventricle changes. Remodelling of the left ventricle will lead to a deterioration in the heart’s pumping action, which in turn has a negative impact on the patient’s chances of survival. In a placebo controlled OMEGA-REMODEL study a high dose of Omega-3 generated an improvement in the structure of the heart muscle tissue in patients who had recently suffered an acute heart attack.
The study included 358 patients, 180 of whom took 1860 mg EPA and 1500 mg DHA (3.36 g Omega-3) each day for a period of 6 months. Scar tissue formation was 5.6% lower in the healthy heart muscle tissue of the Omega-3 group when compared to the placebo group. Depending on their Omega-3 Index, the Omega-3 users also recorded a 5.8% to 13% lower systolic volume-index of the left ventricle, which is a measure for the remodelling of this ventricle.
To put it in a nutshell, the heart muscle tissue of the Omega-3 users recovered more quickly. Less scar tissue and reduced remodelling of the left ventricle are associated with a more favourable prognosis following a heart attack. And the most remarkable aspect of this is that these benefits were obtained in conjunction with the best possible medical treatment.

Source: Heydari B, Abdullah S, Pottala JV, Shah R, Abbasi S, Mandry D, Francis SA, Lumish H, Ghoshhajra BB, Hoffmann U, Appelbaum E, Feng JH, Blankstein R, Steigner M, McConnell JP, Harris W, Antman EM, Jerosch-Herold M, Kwong RY. Effect of Omega-3 Acid Ethyl Esters on Left Ventricular Remodelling After Acute Myocardial Infarction: The OMEGA-REMODEL Randomized Clinical Trial. Circulation 2016; 134(5):378-91. Omega-3 Index Report – NL – Version: 07-2017

Omega-3 fatty acids provide protection against heart failure

It has been known for some time that the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from oily fish and fish oil capsules are beneficial for the heart. Meanwhile, a group of American researchers linked to the Mayo Clinic have conducted an in-depth analysis of every study executed between 1947 and 2015. They evaluated the impact of these Omega-3 fatty acids on the development of coronary heart disease including heart attack, sudden (fatal) cardiac arrest and spasms of the heart.
93,000 people participated in the controlled supplementation studies assessed by the researchers and as many as 732,000 people took part in the observational studies. These are very large groups, enabling the researchers to draw reliable conclusions.
From the observational studies they deduced that people who consume a lot of EPA and DHA have an 18% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.
The controlled supplementation studies highlighted that patients with an excess of triglycerides in their blood (≥150 mg/dl) were 16% better protected against coronary heart disease if they consumed Omega-3 fatty acids. People with increased bad cholesterol values (LDL cholesterol ≥ 130 mg/dl) in their blood had 14% better protection with Omega-3.
Something that had been known for some time was once again corroborated: oily fish on the menu and supplementation with fish oil capsules are a healthy option and a means to protect against a heart attack, cardiac arrest or spasms of the heart. This definitely applies to those already dealing with other risk factors, including increased triglycerides and high cholesterol. The international guideline to consume at least 1 g EPA+DHA per day is shown to be good advice.

Sources: O’Keefe JH, Jacob D, Lavie CJ. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Therapy: The Tide Turns for a Fish Story. Mayo Clin Proc 2017; 92(1):1-3 & Alexander DD, Miller PE, Van Elswyk ME, Kuratko CN, Bylsma LC. A Meta- Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials and Prospective Cohort Studies of Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease Risk. Mayo Clin Proc 2017 Jan; 92(1):15-29.

High dose of Omega-3 during pregnancy reduces the risk of asthma in children

The number of asthma patients in Western countries has doubled over the past few decades. One in five children develops chronic wheezing and asthma.
Can we protect children from asthma, even before they are born? Recent Danish research suggests that a lot depends upon the Omega-3 intake of the mother to be. Half of the participants in this study consumed a high dose of Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil in the last three months of pregnancy, the other half were given the same dose of olive oil (as a placebo).
The results were remarkable. By the age of 5 noticeably fewer children of mothers who consumed Omega-3 during pregnancy suffered from chronic wheezing and asthma, compared to children whose mother had not taken Omega-3. Their risk of asthma had dropped by one third. This protective effect was most noticeable in women whose level of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood was previously quite low.
This Danish research is known as COPSAC2010 or ‘Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood’ and had 2010 as the cut-off date for recruiting participants. 736 women took part in the study. The Omega-3 users consumed 2.4 g Omega-3 fatty acids, including 1.32 g EPA and 888 mg DHA in triglyceride form (rTG), each day throughout the last three months of their pregnancy and for 1 week after the birth of their baby.

Source: Bisgaard H, Stokholm J, Chawes BL, Vissing NH, Bjarnadóttir E, Schoos AM, Wolsk HM, Pedersen TM, Vinding RK, Thorsteinsdóttir S, Følsgaard NV, Fink NR, Thorsen J, Pedersen AG, Waage J, Rasmussen MA, Stark KD, Olsen SF, Bønnelykke K. Fish Oil-Derived Fatty Acids in Pregnancy and Wheeze and Asthma in Offspring. N Engl J Med 2016 Dec 29; 375(26):2530-9.