Fish Oil: It Conveys Much More Than Cardiovascular Health

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Numerous studies have evaluated the effects of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, on cardiovascular health. Overwhelmingly, scientists and clinicians involved in such research believe that omega-3 fatty acids play various beneficial roles in preserving optimal vascular and cardiac health: Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Thrombotic, Anti-Arrhythmic, and TG-Lowering effects are considered to be the most relevant. Recently, Smith et al. published a fascinating and novel clinical trial looking at a non-cardiovascular yet widespread adverse aspect of aging: muscle mass decline. They published their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Fish oil–derived n–3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults. All parameters evaluated improved with the administration of 3,200 mg of daily DHA+EPA. Thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, one-repetition maximum (1-RM) lower- and upper-body strength, and average power during isokinetic leg exercises all demonstrated statistically significant improvement. Improving muscle strength as we age can have far-reaching beneficial consequences that could reduce both morbidity and mortality. Thus, these findings need to be further studied in larger and even more consequential trials. But what additional meaning can we garner from their trial?

I believe that beyond their fascinating and clinically pertinent findings there actually lies a far more evocative message. It is simply that we should be extraordinarily cautious about abandoning the evaluation of therapies (even dietary) when they make biological and physiological sense. Fish oil consumption is woefully low in the US when compared to the far more healthy Japanese population. Our life expectancies are far shorter and various cancers occur more frequently in the US. It is scientifically quite plausible that our deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids plays a significant role in our relatively diminished health. But, after the publication of a few clinical trials failed to demonstrate the cardiovascular benefit of fish and fish oil in select patient populations, some physicians truly abandoned their prior admonitions for patients to augment fish consumption. They were derailed by the controversial results of just a few trials (that many exceptional researchers consider to be flawed in the first place). This type of knee jerk reaction has no place in medicine. It is dangerous and counterproductive. To protect our patients and maintain our scientific integrity, we must always practice with open and attentive minds. Once again I implore my scientific colleagues as well as the oftentimes superficially inquisitive media to follow the science, not the hype.

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Tips to Improve Your Cardiovascular Health During National Heart Month

There may be no better time to change your ways and focus on improving your heart health than National Heart Month. Here are some simple tips that may help get you on a path to better cardiovascular and overall health.

An irreplaceable component in any healthful lifestyle regimen is exercise.

  • The American Heart Association advocates at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or any combination of the two). An average of 30 minutes a day, five times a week is an easy target to remember. (Personally I advocate 60 minutes of daily exercise). If you are unable to allocate a solid thirty minutes of your time to exercise you can divide your time into two or three shorter segments of 10 -15 minutes per day.
  • Walking is the simplest aerobic exercise you can undertake to effectively improve your heart health. It’s enjoyable, free, easy, social, relaxing, and even meditative.
  • Racquet sports, basketball, swimming, golf, gardening – or any aerobic pastime that gets you up off the couch – are great ways to improve your cardiovascular health and potentially trim inches off that waistline.
  • If you’ve been sedentary for years, a full 30 minutes of exercise may be too challenging for you. Start with sessions of shorter duration – something is better than nothing – and gradually build up to a full 30 to 60 minutes of activity. Also, if you have been truly sedentary, see your doctor before embarking upon a new exercise regimen.

Adjust your diet
Excess weight can be a killer. Address any overweight and obesity issues you may have. If you currently eat a lot of fast food, sugary sweets or high saturated fat foods you should begin a transition to a more healthful diet. This is a lifestyle change and does not have to occur all at once!

  • Eat a diet that features daily servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables and at least one serving of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout) per week.
  • Limit foods and drinks high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. Avoid unhealthful snacks. Stay away from processed foods to the best of your ability. Avoid simple carbohydrates. Sugar is your enemy.
  • Consider a high quality fish oil pill that has been concentrated and purified to give you 1,000 mg of combined DHA and EPA in a single soft gel.
  • Take a good daily multiple.

Be your own healthcare advocate
In addition to undertaking a regular exercise regimen and eating a healthful diet here are some additional recommendations for leading a more healthful life.

  • Get a check-up. How often you have a check-up can be determined by your age, sex, and overall health.  Have your blood pressure checked, and get screened for hypertension.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether or not taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke is right for you.
  •  Get immunized: Annual flu shots are recommended for adults 50 and older, as well as immunization of adults 65 and older against bacteria that causes pneumonia and related diseases. Children should get immunized for measles, mumps, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, etc.
  • Cholesterol screening is imperative. Request an assessment of not only your LDL but your LDL particle number as well.
  • Never smoke; quit smoking if you’ve already started; and avoid second hand smoke.
  • Adults 50 and older should have a routine colorectal-cancer screening. (Genetic issues may dictate earlier screening).
  • Cervical cancer screening for sexually active women and women over 21 years of age.
  • Routine breast-cancer screening for women 50 and older and discussion with women ages 40 to 49 to set an age to begin screening. (Genetic issues may dictate earlier screening).
  • Calcium-supplements can be especially beneficial for adolescent girls and women.
  • Get an eye exam, particularly diabetics and adults 65 and older.
  • Manage your stress. Meditation, deep breathing, and simple exercise will help you do so.
  • Get routine dermatologic exams.
  • Get enough sleep. If you have a sleep disorder, please discuss this with your physician.
  • Always remember that you and your doctor are partners in the quest to keep you healthy and active for years to come. Find a doctor who is proactive and with whom you are completely comfortable. He or she should be instrumental in helping guide you throughout your life.

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