Omega-3 : prevent heart failure
By: Dr. Maille Devlin, ND
Although we often hear of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, heart failure is an aspect of cardiovascular health not mentioned very often. However, it is estimated that over 26 million people worldwide are living with heart failure.1 In the United States alone, the number of people with heart failure is expected to hit 8.5 million by the year 2030.1
What is Heart Failure?
Heart failur, is exactly what it sounds like, the heart begins to stop working at full capacity. Basic functions of the heart begin to fail and it becomes less efficient at pumping blood for the body to use. Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a chronic condition and although there are several treatments given to improve outcomes and improve quality of life, there is no cure.
Some symptoms of heart failure include a shortness of breath that becomes worse when lying down or with exercise, swelling of the lower legs and sometimes abdomen, a cough, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, rapid weight gain, and trouble concentrating.2
What Causes Heart Failure?
Heart failure is usually caused by chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or coronary artery disease which damage the heart. Certain genetic defects and illness such as valve malformations and endocarditis can also increase the risk of heart failure.2 When the muscles in the heart become damaged, stiff, or weakened, they become less efficient at doing their job of pumping blood. The heart cannot either properly expand due to thickened valves or create enough strength to pump out the blood in proper volumes due to weakness or damage. This leads to a lack of circulation of blood, fluid, and oxygen throughout the body as well as compensations such as an increased heart rate and respiration rate.
How is Heart Failure Treated?
For the most part, there is no cure for heart failure, although certain medications can improve outcomes. If heart failure is caused by a genetic defect such as valve malformation, surgery may fix the heart failure, however, most cases of heart failure are incurable and managed through pharmaceuticals. Drugs such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and diuretics and others are used to improve blood flow to the heart, slow down heart rate, decrease blood pressure and help decrease fluid accumulation in the body.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Heart Failure
Good news! Most of the risk factors for heart failure are largely preventable through lifestyle changes. Therefore, lowering your risk can be done by changing up certain lifestyle habits.
Lifestyle habits used to decrease the risk of heart failure involve not smoking, exercising, eating a whole foods-healthy diet, reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes.
Like any condition, heart failure isn’t completely preventable, however, by managing lifestyle factors mentioned above, you can significantly reduce your change of diagnosis.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Failure
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce coronary artery disease through their reduction of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood and have general protective impacts on the heart.3 Therefore, several studies have looked at the use of omega-3 fatty acids in both the prevention and treatment of congestive heart failure.1
In a study looking at the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on heart failure patients, researchers found that those who received omega-3 fatty acids supplementation through fish oils, had improved outcomes. 4 Compared with those not receiving supplementation, those given fish oils had decreased death rates and spent less time in the hospital for reasons related to heart health.4
The British Medical Journal produced a meta-analysis of 7 studies examining the role of fish oils on heart function in those with congestive heart failure. In the fish oil group, the amount of blood pumped out of the heart for the body increased when compared to the placebo group.5 Importantly, the researchers found that the staging of heart failure improved in the omega-3 supplemented group as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids may play both a protective role, (by reducing risk factors) as well as improve physiological and clinical outcomes for patients with heart failure.
Heart failure is a serious medical condition. Please do not start taking omega-3 fatty acids or any dietary supplement without checking with your healthcare provider first.
- Wang C, Xiong B, Huang J. The role of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in heart failure: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Nutrients. 2017 Jan;9(1):18.
- Mayo Clinic. Heart Failure. January 5, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142
- Wall R, Ross RP, Fitzgerald GF, Stanton C. Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrition reviews. 2010 May 1;68(5):280-9.
- Tavazzi L, Maggioni AP, Marchioli R, Barlera S, Franzosi MG, Latini R, Lucci D, Nicolosi GL, Porcu M, Tognoni G. Effect of rosuvastatin in patients with chronic heart failure (the GISSI-HF trial): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet (London, England). 2008 Oct;372(9645):1231-9.
- Xin W, Wei W, Li X. Effects of fish oil supplementation on cardiac function in chronic heart failure: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Heart. 2012 Nov 15;98(22):1620-5.