You may have seen a story in the news claiming a study found that consuming more omega-3 fats doesn’t help heart patients. How did the researchers come to this conclusion? They fed their human guinea pigs margarine -- otherwise known as the extremely heart unhealthy form of fat called trans fat.
Essentially, the researchers gave heart attack survivors margarine enhanced with omega-3s. Unsurprisingly, it did little to offset the heart-damaging hydrogenated oil already present in the margarine.
There were additional problems with the study as well. According to the Alliance for Natural Health:
“Dr. Stephen Kopecky, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic said it may have been a matter of too little, too late — the dose was so tiny and the patients were enrolled many years after their initial heart attack — on average four years.”
In a separate study, researchers have identified the molecular mechanism that makes omega-3 fats effective in reducing chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.
The scientists identified a key receptor on macrophages found in obese body fat. Omega-3 fats activate this macrophage receptor, resulting in anti-inflammatory effects and improved insulin sensitivity.
“Macrophages are specialized white blood cells that engulf and digest cellular debris and pathogens. Part of this immune system response involves the macrophages secreting cytokines and other proteins that cause inflammation ... Obese fat tissue contains lots of these macrophages producing lots of cytokines. The result can be chronic inflammation and rising insulin resistance.”
Animal-based omega-3 fats (fish oil and krill oil) have amazing benefits to heart health, benefits that have been well studied and proven for years. So when a new study came out in August claiming that omega-3 didn’t help heart patients after all, it raised more than a few eyebrows.
But even a quick review of the study makes it very clear why it got such flawed and misleading results, and it has nothing to do with the role of animal-based omega-3 fats, which remain an unchallenged hero for your heart.
What Made the Study so Flawed?
In two words, trans fats.
In case you’ve forgotten, trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil during food processing in order to make it solidify. This process, known as hydrogenation, makes fats less likely to oxidize and spoil, so foods have a longer shelf life and also have a less greasy feel.
But the process is also a disaster for your health. Many have known for a few decades now that margarine is not healthy for you but unfortunately this propaganda still has some people convinced and they actually choose to use margarine as their spread of choice.
The end result of the hydrogenation process is a completely unnatural fat that causes dysfunction and chaos in your body on a cellular level, including in your heart where it can cause major clogging of your arteries.
Among women with underlying coronary heart disease, eating trans fats increased the risk of sudden cardiac arrest three-fold!
Trans fats are also known to interfere with your body’s use of omega-3 fats.
So what does this have to do with the study in question?
The researchers fed their volunteers margarine enriched with plant- or animal-based omega-3 fats. Margarine is made by hydrogenation, and it is notorious for containing loads of heart-damaging trans fats.
There are newer trans-fat-free margarines available, and the study did not specify whether they were used or not, but they would still contain trace amounts of trans fats plus contain rancid vegetable oils, which are pro-inflammatory and therefore harmful to your heart. These oxidized fats actually raise your risk of heart disease and blood clots!
After eating about four teaspoons of margarine a day for nearly 3.5 years, the researchers found no difference in heart attacks or heart problems among those who ate plain margarine or margarine enriched with omega-3 -- but how they were attempting to gauge any benefit from omega-3 given the source or method they used is beyond me.
They might as well have given the volunteers their fish oil pills stuffed inside jelly doughnuts or French fries and called it a day!
All the study really found out was that eating margarine enriched with omega-3 is no better for you than eating plain margarine, and is in no way a beneficial way to increase your levels of this valuable fat.
What do OTHER Studies Say About Omega-3 for Your Heart?
If you’re looking for a wonder “pill” to keep your heart healthy, omega-3 fats, in the form of fish oil and, especially, krill oil, are about as close as you’re going to get. Studies have shown these fats to be:
- Antiarrhythmic: counteracting or preventing cardiac arrhythmia
- Antithrombotic: tending to prevent thrombosis (a blood clot within a blood vessel)
- Antiatherosclerotic: preventing fatty deposits and fibrosis of the inner layer of your arteries from forming
- Anti-inflammatory: counteracting inflammation (heat, pain, swelling, etc.). This new study actually shows how omega-3 fats result in such broad anti-inflammatory effects.
Omega-3 fat also:
- Improves endothelial function: a major factor in promoting the growth of new blood vessels
- Has beneficial effects on the heart's electrical system, preventing potentially life-threatening heart rhythm disorders
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers triglyceride concentrations
One study even found that fish oil supplements worked better than a popular cholesterol-reducing drug to help patients with chronic heart failure.
Omega-3 deficiency may actually be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year, including some of those from coronary heart disease and stroke. Even the FDA allows claims for omega-3 for heart disease; it is one of the few food health claims that the FDA allows.
All Omega-3 Fats are Not Created Equal
Another flaw to the aforementioned study -- some of their volunteers were eating omega-3 from plant-based sources, which will not give them the heart benefits they were hoping for.
Plant-based omega-3 fats are highly beneficial and should also be consumed, but the evidence is very clear that they are not an acceptable substitute for animal-based omega-3 fats.
This is primarily related to the fact that your body does not easily convert the ALA in plant-based fats to the longer fats of EPA and DHA. And if you have diabetes, are overweight, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or are elderly, your body has even more difficulty converting these fats.
Animal-based omega-3 fats contain two fatty acids crucial to your health, DHA and EPA. These two fatty acids, not ALA, are the ones that are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases.
But even among animal-based omega-3 fats, there are major discrepancies that can impact performance.
What’s the Best Type of Animal-Based Omega-3 Fat?
Ideally you would receive all the animal-based omega-3s you'd need from eating seafood. Unfortunately, industrial pollution has changed the landscape, turning most of the world's waters, and the seafood it contains heavily contaminated with a variety of dangerous toxins like mercury and PCBs.
This leaves purified fish oil supplements and another marine oil, krill oil, as alternatives. Although I still recommend fish oil in some cases, I believe krill oil is the best option for most people, for several reasons.
Personally, I take krill oil every day.
Krill oil, like fish oil, contains omega-3 fats such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). However, in fish oil, these omega-3 fats are found in a triglyceride molecule that has to be broken down in your gut into its base fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Because of this, about 80-85 percent of it is never absorbed and instead is eliminated in your intestine. This is what causes about 50 percent of people to "burp up" the fish oil taste and not tolerate fish oil well at all.
Once the fatty acids are absorbed into your bloodstream your liver then has to attach it to phoshphatidyl choline molecule for it to be used by your body. The amazing beauty of krill oil is that they come right out of the bottle in the form your body can immediately use, phospholipid structure. Your body doesn't process it at all and uses virtually 100% of the DHA and EPA.
Unpublished new data suggests krill oil is actually absorbed 10-15 times better than fish oil.
Additionally, krill oil has the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, which prevents the perishable DHA and EPA from going rancid. The vast majority of fish oil being sold is actually rancid before you even open the bottle, as it doesn't contain this protective antioxidant, which prevents the DHA and EPA from oxidizing.
Another Important Reminder to Always “Read Between the Lines”
I’d hate to think that this latest study’s bad science is going to turn people away from the omega-3 fats that will protect their heart. But the headlines touting omega-3’s lack of benefit for heart health may do just that.
Only those who dig below the surface will get to the real conclusion, which is that margarine is not heart-healthy, even if it’s laced with omega-3.
Omega-3 fats in their pure, animal-based form, on the other hand, continue to provide incredible health benefits to people of all ages. Omega-3 fat deficiency is the sixth biggest killer of Americans, according to Harvard University researchers, so please make sure you’re getting yours each day.