Heart and omega-3 fatty acids

EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, combat cardiac arrhythmias including atrial and ventricular fibrillation, improve heart rate and reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death. This has been scientifically proven through studies with patients, in-vitro studies and animal research. The omega-3 index is the content of omega-3 fatty acids (relative to the total fatty acid content) in membrane phospholipids of red blood cells. A low omega-3 index is associated with a high risk of (fatal) ventricular fibrillation during the acute (ischemic) phase of a myocardial infarction. Among Japanese, who have a high intake of EPA and DHA (and an omega-3 index of approximately 11%), sudden cardiac death is twenty times less common than among Europeans (who have an omega-3 index of approximately 4% ).
In the GISSI-Prevenzione study, supplementation with 1 gram of EPA/DHA per day reduced the risk of sudden cardiac death after a myocardial infarction by 45%. 23 in patients who underwent bypass surgery, the risk of arrhythmias was reduced by 54% by the use of fish oil (2 grams of EPA/DHA per day for at least five days prior to the operation). The fact that omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect on the heart rhythm is partly due to their influence on electrolyte transport along the cell membrane of heart muscle cells, resulting in reduced excitability.

After a heart attack

In an animal model for chronic heart failure, it has been shown that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids counteracts changes in the left atrium (enlargement, fibrosis and electrical conduction disorders). Electrophysiological research in healthy subjects who took 6 grams of fish oil daily for at least a month shows that omega-3 fatty acids make the heart less sensitive to atrial fibrillation. Epidemiological research suggests that people are less likely to develop atrial fibrillation or die in the first year after a heart attack if they take supplements with omega-3 fatty acids. A daily dose of EPA/DHA up to 3 grams is safe for most people.

Omega-3 deficiencies?

Of course, not everyone is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. People who do not have any deficiencies should therefore not forcefully use more fats or nutritional supplements. It is not always easy to know whether you have deficiencies. Possible physical signs of fatty acid deficiency include excessive thirst, frequent urination, dry bumps on the skin (‘follicular keratosis’), rough skin and brittle hair, dandruff, soft and brittle nails.

Vegetable omega-3 fatty acids: linseed, walnuts, purslane

In addition to using oily fish, it is also possible to obtain omega-3 fatty acids through plant-based food. Flaxseed, dark leafy vegetables (especially purslane, watercress, spinach and seaweed), but also nuts (especially walnuts) and legumes contain many omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Purslane / Portulaca oleracea: 100 g contains 300 to 400 mg alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid).
  • Linseed (or flax seed) / Linum usitatissimum: is a very good source of alpha-linolenic acid. The easiest and concentrated is linseed oil. This oil is not suitable for heating, but works excellently in dressings, or as a topping for pasta, rice or vegetables. You can also add linseed oil to hot vegetables, soups, sauces or drinks just before serving.
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