A diet designed to keep your heart healthy should include a regular supply of fish oil. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil provide numerous cardiovascular benefits, including lowering the levels of triglycerides in your bloodstream. It's best to go straight to the source and eat fish so that you gain all the protein and nutrients along with the fish oil. But it's more important to consume fish oil, even if you do it through supplements.
Fish Oil and Triglyceride Basics
Fatty fish contain two essential omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. The omega-3s in fish oil lower your levels of cholesterol, prevent irregular heartbeats that can cause sudden cardiac death and slow the growth of artery-clogging plaque in blood vessels. EPA and DHA also protect your health by lowering levels of triglycerides. Most of the fats and oils in foods are triglycerides. When you consume more calories than your body uses for energy, the extra calories are converted into triglycerides and stored as fat.
Impact of Triglycerides
When the levels of triglycerides circulating in your bloodstream get too high, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases. The triglycerides don't stick to artery walls. Instead, they speed up the development of arterial disease caused by bad cholesterol, while also inhibiting the formation of good cholesterol, according to University of Wisconsin Health. High triglycerides can also cause chronic pancreatitis. If this condition remains untreated, the inflamed pancreas doesn't heal. Over time, this can lead to permanent damage, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Pancreatitis causes upper abdominal pain, nausea and weight loss.
How Fish Oil Works
Fats can't flow freely through your bloodstream, so they're carried inside package-like structures called lipoproteins. You may be familiar with lipoproteins because good cholesterol travels inside high-density lipoproteins, while bad cholesterol is carried by low-density lipoproteins. Triglycerides are transported inside very-low-density lipoproteins, or VLDL. VLDL deliver triglycerides to muscles for energy, to adipose tissue for storage and out of fat cells when you need the energy. Fish oil lowers triglyceride levels by reducing the production of VLDL and increasing the amount of VLDL eliminated from your body, according to a report published in May 2012 in "Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) -- Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids."
The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish every week. The best sources for EPA and DHA are salmon, herring, trout, mackerel and tuna. If you don't eat fish, the University of Massachusetts Medical School suggests taking daily fish oil supplements containing 0.8 to 1 gram of combined EPA and DHA. If your triglycerides are already high, you may need larger doses. Prescription fish oil in doses of 3 grams daily may lower triglycerides by 20 to 50 percent, according to the report published in "Biochimica et Biophysica Acta." Do not take this much fish oil without consulting your physician because the higher dose can cause side effects.
- American Heart Association: Triglycerides
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: Heart Health: Eating Guidelines to Lower Triglycerides
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids
- MedlinePlus: Fish Oil
- University of Massachusetts Medical School: Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
- Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids: Fish Oil - How Does it Reduce Plasma Triglycerides?
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Pancreatitis
- The Medical Biochemistry Page: VLDLs, IDLs, and LDLs
- Circulation: American Heart Association Scientific Statement: Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006 - Other Dietary Factors That Affect CVD Risk
- Purdue University: Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content in Fish