If you’re like most people, you know that omega-3s are heart-healthy fats. You probably take fish oil, flax seed or some other supplement to improve your omega-3 intake. You may have read about benefits like decreased risk of blood clots and normalized blood pressure. But did you know that omega-3s reinforce your heart’s antioxidant defense system? This is news to most of us!
What Does the New Study Show?
The new study was an animal study. To be specific, the researchers used rats. Rats are often used in studies like this because their metabolism, when adjusted for the difference in weight, is similar to humans.
The researchers started by adding omega-3s to the diets of some of the rats for 8 weeks. Another group of rats served as the control group, to compare the results. They got their regular feed. The study involved blocking blood flow to the heart for 30 minutes. It takes only 3 or 4 minutes for a lack of blood flow to damage the heart. The blood flow was restored and the hearts were examined 2 hours later.
All of the hearts were injured but there was less damage to the hearts of the rats that had received omega-3 supplements. The researchers also measured the amount of glutathione, super oxide dismutase and other antioxidant enzymes present in the hearts. Those that had received the supplements had higher levels of the antioxidants.
The researchers made the conclusion that omega-3 supplementation protected the hearts from damage by reinforcing the antioxidant defense system.
Why Are Antioxidants Important to Heart Health?
Antioxidants are important to the health of the whole body. Much of the damage that occurs in the cells of the body over time is caused by oxidative stress, something we commonly call “free radical damage”. Antioxidants form a natural defense system against free radical damage.
In the heart and blood vessels, antioxidants work to prevent the oxidation of fats or lipids. Oxidized lipids harden on the inner walls of vessels and interfere with normal blood flow. Sometimes the hardened particles break free from the blood vessel wall and form a blood clot. A clot in the arteries leading to the heart can cause a heart attack. So, you could say that antioxidants help prevent heart attack.
The new results were surprising because omega-3s are fats. Specifically, they are polyunsaturated fatty acids. They have no measurable antioxidant activity. But somehow, they are able to raise antioxidant levels which is very interesting.
Should You Keep Taking Your Omega-3 Supplement? Is There a Downside?
If you are currently taking an omega-3 supplement, just take the time to do a little research to make sure it is a good supplement. For one thing, the oil should be as fresh as possible. Oils have a short shelf-life. They can become oxidized quickly. Consuming oxidized oils is bad for your health. Instead of reinforcing your antioxidant defense system, they can weaken it. Your body would have to use its antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals that form in the oxidized oil. You can learn more about what it takes to make a good supplement on other pages of our site. Freshness is just one thing to consider.
What’s the Bottom Line on Omega-3s and Heart Disease?
It’s well-known that omega-3s are healthier, in part because they are less saturated. Saturated fats raise blood lipid levels. The more lipids there are in the bloodstream, the more likely some of them will become oxidized and start to clog the vessels. This new study gives us yet another reason to try to include more omega-3s in our diets. If you are not taking a good omega-3 supplement, you might consider adding one to your daily healthcare routine. It’s not a magic pill. It’s just a little extra protection.