The beneficial properties of fish oils have been known for many years. We all know the cliché of the child being forced to take even a small amount of cod liver oil every day. This thick, foul-smelling liquid was given in order to replace necessary vitamins and other nutrients lacking from children’s diets. Dr Golfo Savvopoulou, cardiologist, reveals the secret story of the heart and fatty acids.
Over time, access to fruit, vegetables, fish and meat became easier, and our diet improved along with our standard of living. However, fish oils still play an important role in our lives, both for supplementing missing nutrients and as a means of prevention and an ally to our heart and our body in general.
“When we speak of ‘fish oils’ we are essentially talking about omega-3 fatty acids, which are contained in the liver of large fish, as well as in some molluscs. These fats are essential for our body”, notes Dr Golfo Savvopoulou, cardiologist. According to studies, the human body cannot produce these compounds and therefore must ingest them in the form of food or, if this isn’t possible, products containing these fats. Fish oil is produced from the flesh of large oily fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardine and trout. It is particularly rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (doxosahexaenoic acid). In the body, these fatty acids are converted to series-3 prostaglandins which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Fish oils made from liver (cod liver oil) are produced from the liver of white fish, such as cod and halibut, and contain large amounts of vitamins A and D.
Certain vegetables and seeds are also considered sources for omega-3 fatty acids. However, the α-linolenic acid (ΑLA) contained in such foods (leafy green vegetables, linseed oil, soybean oil etc.) cannot be converted to EPA because certain enzymes are missing. Therefore, even if our diet is rich in these foods, we might have a deficiency in series-3 prostaglandins.
This means that ΕΡΑ from fish oils is very important because it is the only convenient source for series-3 prostaglandins.
► Benefits for our heart
Dr Savvopoulou explains that “fish oils are used as an adjunct to ensure good cardiac health and protection from cardiovascular disease. It has been proven that fish oils are very beneficial to the health of our heart because they help maintain a balance in blood fats, they increase the levels of HDL- (or “good”) cholesterol, they reduce the levels of homocysteine, they decrease hypertension and prevent blood clotting by reducing its viscosity; they also lessen the risk of arrhythmia”.
Specifically, “the most established effect that omega-3 acids have on the heart involves the protection of the heart and the blood vessels. The mechanisms through which omega-3 acids protect us from coronary artery disease (myocardial infarction, angina) are varied. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce triglyceride levels and blood pressure, help stabilise atherosclerotic lesions, prevent thrombosis and reduce the risk of arrhythmia. A large number of scientific studies have shown that consumption of large amounts of EPA and DHA fatty acids is associated with lower risk of coronary disease. We should also note that fish oils contribute significantly to the prevention of recurring cardiac events; a person who has suffered an infarction can reduce the risk of a new episode by taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements”, explains Dr Savvopoulou.
► Safe dosages
It is scientifically accepted and established that fish oils are completely safe, as they are actually essential nutrients for the human body. “Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids are suitable for young and old people alike. These are substances which are –or should be– included in our diets, and so there are no age limits for consuming them or taking them in the form of supplements. However, we mustn’t forget that we should follow a balanced diet, especially of the Mediterranean type which is rich in all essential ingredients and elements which contribute to our body’s health”, says Dr Savvopoulou.
Our expert adds that “In every case, patients should consult their doctor before taking any products. In the case of patients with cardiovascular problems, the doctor will determine the dosage, possibly in combination with any medication that the patient is already receiving”.
► How do they help our cardiovascular system?
- Omega-3 fatty acids are a significant means of reducing triglyceride levels.
- They increase the levels of HDL- (so-called “good”) cholesterol.
- They prevent platelet aggregation and therefore reduce the risk of clot formation.
- They decrease blood pressure.
- They reduce the levels of homocysteine in the blood.
- They prevent the occurrence of dangerous arrhythmias in patients with diagnosed coronary artery disease, where this could lead to an infarction.
- They reduce the risk of restenosis in patients who have undergone balloon angioplasty.
- They provide general protective effects against atherosclerosis, stroke, angina and heart failure.
Modern Cardiology Centre
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