There are many factors contributing to a person’s risk for heart attack, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, and family history. Luckily, there are just as many ways to lower your risk as there are risk factors. Oftentimes, the first approach that comes to mind includes improving diet and establishing a healthy exercise routine. While these are indeed important for reducing heart attack risk and improving overall health, researchers are also finding minor lifestyle adjustments could also help you prevent cardiac events.
In particular, two recent Harvard-led clinical trials suggest eating more fish or taking a fish oil supplement can reduce the risk of heart attack. The findings were so impressive that one cardiologist even stated that a reduction in heart attacks so profound hasn’t been witnessed since aspirin therapy was first explored.
In the VITAL trial, study participants aged 50 and older who took 1 gram of fish oil daily had a 28% reduction in heart attack risk, observed over a five-year follow-up period. In the REDUCE-IT trial, participants took EPA, a pure form of omega-3 fatty acid. People taking the supplement had a 20% reduction in the risk of heart-related death, 31% reduction in heart attack risk, and a 28% reduction in stroke risk.
How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Support Heart Health?
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish like salmon and sardines but can also be taken in supplement form. These nutrients are unsaturated fats which have been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is the main offender in increasing heart attack risk, as it can damage blood vessels, contributing to heart disease and stroke. There are also other ways omega-3 can support cardiac health: they may decrease triglycerides, reduce blood pressure and clotting, and reduce irregular heartbeats.
While supplements are one way to take in these powerful fatty acids, experts agree that dietary measures should also be prioritized. One to two servings of omega-3 fatty fish each week is ideal. In addition to salmon and sardines, tuna, lake trout, and mackerel are also good choices. Most other types of seafood only contain small amounts of omega-3s.
As with any supplement, it’s important to talk with your doctor before beginning a daily regimen. Specifically, individuals on blood thinners may not be good candidates for fish oil supplements, as they too can produce a blood-thinning effect. With that said, based on the compelling research, it’s certainly worthwhile for adults over the age of 50 to discuss their candidacy for supplements with their doctors.