Health Questions and Answers

Question: Does the administration of omega-3 fatty acids protect the myocardium?

Answer:

All of the preceding effects of omega-3 fatty acids are seen on blood vessels, including the coronary vessels which feed the heart. But n-3 fatty acids, incorporated into the heart itself, may help keep the muscle from dying when its blood supply is cut off during a heart attack. This is an active field of research and some current examples may serve to demonstrate the point.

In one study, fish oil was taken for 2 years by men who had already survived one heart attack. The researchers found that the number of fatal heart attacks was reduced, although the total number of heart attacks was not significantly lowered.

In another study, patients who were having heart attacks were treated with omega-3 fatty acids from either fish oil or mustard oil. Their death rates were 50% less than that in a control group. The rate of arrhythmias was reduced as well.

Studies in experimental animals have also shown benefit. Those animals fed fish oil sustained much less damaged to their heart after a heart attack was induced. All of these support the tentative conclusion that omega-3 fatty acids may not prevent heart attacks but that they minimize the damage once an attack has begun. Exactly how omega-3 fatty acids do this is not known and a number of investigators are exploring the question.

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