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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

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Unlocking Heart Health with Fish Oil

By Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death across the globe. Approximately 17.3 million deaths a year are attributed to CVDs, representing 31% of all deaths worldwide, with at least three quarters of these occurring in low to middle income countries.  

An unhealthy diet and poor nutritional status in particular contribute to fat build-up in the arteries, which restricts blood flow to the organs and leads to health problems like heart attacks and strokes. Lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity, healthy diet and body weight, not smoking, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar can all help to promote cardiovascular health. While some of the risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, nutrition is one aspect that can be actively improved. Omega-3 fatty acids are proven to be a powerful nutrient in supporting heart health. 

DSM has co-authored a new review which indicates that adults in most regions of the world have a low to very low status of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The paper, which analyzes 298 studies, has created a global map showing the levels of EPA and DHA in the bloodstreams of healthy adults, identifying which regions are at most risk of chronic illness. Regions with very low EPA and DHA blood levels (<4%) included North, South and Central America, Central and Southern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa. The Sea of Japan, Scandinavia and regions with indigenous populations or populations who have not adopted Westernized food habits were classified as having high status of EPA and DHA (>8%).  

To get the ideal amount of omega-3 fatty acids, the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish - such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines or albacore tuna - twice a week.  But this may be unappealing, or even impossible, for many consumers. As such, fish oil supplements can be an effective alternative to meet the suggested intake for heart health. 

The key to unlocking the full health benefits of fish oil is balanced consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. However, the trend is to consume too much of the omega-6s, found in poultry, eggs and cooking oils, and not enough omega-3s to restore the proper balance. 

Across the globe, omega-3 fish oil is a powerful nutrient with the potential to have a large positive impact on the overall health of the population. For the millions of people struggling with a form of CVD, omega-3 fish oil could be part of a longer, healthier future.

With CVDs being a leading cause of death worldwide, it is critical that the importance of nutrients, like omega-3s, in supporting heart health is understood. Doctors should talk to patients about the recommended daily amounts of omega-3s each individual needs and, if diet alone is not providing a sufficient amount, recommend a fish oil supplement. Patients should also be asking their doctors about this crucial nutrient, and telling loved ones at risk of heart disease to consider protecting their health by making sure to get the right amount of omega-3s each day.

To find out more about about DSM's research in this area, read the 'Benefits of optimal omega-3 intake and status' whitepaper here.

Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer is Professor for Healthy Aging at the University Medical Center Groningen and a Senior Vice President and Head for Nutritional Science Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products.


World Health Organization, 2016, Cardiovascular Diseases

Progress in Lipid Research, 2016. Global survey of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in the blood stream of healthy adults

American Heart Organization, 2015, Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids