EPA and cardiovascular health

During the last 30 years many studies have been conducted on the benefits of omega-3 in the cardiovascular system. In 1944, Sinclair described the low prevalence of cardiovascular diseases among Greenland Eskimos, whose diet was rich in seals, whales and fish. Furthermore, over 30 years ago, Bang and Dyberg noted that despite taking a diet low in fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates and high in saturated fat and cholesterol, the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood of Eskimos were lower than similarly aged adults in the neighboring Denmark, where the risk of myocardial infarction was higher. These observations led to speculations about the protective role of omega-3 in what became known as the Eskimo Factor.

Since then, numerous studies have been conducted that highlight the importance of omega-3 to support cardiovascular health (ie. DART studies, GISSI, JELIS,…). Both EPA and DHA promote cardiovascular health, although each fatty acid works through different mechanisms of action. The American Heart Association or AHA (American Heart Association) recommends taking 1,000 mg omega-3 / day.

There is a widespread belief that omega-3 lower cholesterol levels. However, according to the scientific literature, this is not exactly true. The total cholesterol-lowering effect of omega-3 fatty acids is rather moderate and not significant. Both EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, a type of fat which poses a risk to cardiovascular health. Furthermore, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, EPA is a very interesting fatty acid to support cardiovascular problems where inflammation is present.

Important remark: when taking a blood thinner, caution should be taken when using EPA because beyond certain doses ( 2.5-3 g of EPA / day), there could be a synergistic effect resulting in an excessive thinning of the blood.

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  • Grimsgaard S et al., (1997) Highly purified eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in humans have similar triacylglycerol-lowering effects but divergent effects on serum fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr 66:649–59
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