Fish Oil and Heart Disease – Beware

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Pick up a bottle of Omega 3 fish oil and you will read that it supports heart health, and may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  What it does not tell you is that it can elevate your low density lipoprotein or LDL, which is referred to as the bad cholesterol.  What is does improve is your triglyceride.  To better understand this let’s look at both fats.

Cholesterol is  waxy, odorless lipid (fat) made by the liver that is an essential part of cell walls and nerves.  It also plays an important role in body functions such as digestion, and hormone production.  In addition to being produced by the body, cholesterol comes from animal foods that we eat to include meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and diary products.  Eating too much saturated fat therefore increases cholesterol.  The guideline for total cholesterol level in healthy adults is less than 200mg/dl.

Triglyceride is a fatty substance referred to as a lipid.  It is the fat that is carried in the blood from the food we eat.  Most of the fats we eat, including butter, margarine and oils, are in triglyceride form.  Excess calories, alcohol or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells throughout the body.  The liver packages cholesterol with triglycerides and proteins as lipoproteins and transports it to sites throughout the body .  An elevated triglyceride level increases the risk of heart disease.  The guideline for a normal triglyceride level in healthy adults is less than 150 mg/dl.

The American Heart Association (AHA) does not recommend drug treatment to reach a normal triglyceride level.  Instead, for those trying to lower their triglycerides, lifestyle changes such as diet, weight loss and physical activity are encouraged.  That’s because triglycerides usually respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes.  The AHA recommends Heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in oily fish as well as in flax seeds, walnuts and omega-3 eggs.  For those who need to lower their triglycerides the physician may order omega 3 capsules.  One should not take more than 4gms per day without a physicians care since it can increase the LDL

If you are taking omega 3 capsules for a healthy heart know what your heart status is.  If you have family history or told you have elevated triglyceride then omega 3 is right for you. On the other hand, if you have elevated cholesterol stop the fish oil and focus on other dietary measures.  Increase your soluble fiber since it forms a gel which binds some cholesterol in the small intestine and takes it out of the body.  The next time you are at the vitamin cottage ask about plant sterols.  It is a plant compound with chemical structures similar to that of cholesterol.  Interestingly because phytosterols so closely resemble cholesterol they can actually block food-based cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood stream.  The result is both phytosterols and dietary cholesterol end up excreted in waste matter.  Taking 0.8gms twice a day will decrease both LDL and total cholesterol. Your best options is to select foods with plant sterols added such as in orange juice and vegetable oil spreads,  otherwise to get 0.8gm naturally would require an excessive intake of  food items such as 12 cups of broccoli, 70 carrots or 26 oranges.

Written by Joanne Slyter, MBA, RD Westminster, CO

 

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