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New Study Shows this Omega-3 Fat Reduces Heart Disease

krill oil reduces heart diseaseOmega-3 fats are known to ameliorate metabolic risk factors for cardiovascular disease. A recent study investigated the effects of omega-3 fats, given as krill oil, on endocannabinoids, which have been linked to metabolic syndrome.

Mice were fed an unhealthy diet until their endocannabinoid levels were increased in their tissues. After supplementation with omega-3's, levels of endocannabinoid precursors went down.

According to the study:

"[The] data suggest that [krill oil] may promote therapeutic benefit by reducing endocannabinoid precursor availability and hence endocannabinoid biosynthesis."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

It seems that virtually every day a new finding is made about the extraordinary health benefits of omega-3 fats. It's well known that these essential fats have a protective effect on your heart, but new research has revealed that part of this therapeutic benefit may be related to omega 3's impact on endocannabinoid biosynthesis.

What are Endocannabinoids, and What do They Have to do With Your Heart Health?

Your body has naturally occurring endocannabinoids that stimulate your cannabinoid receptors and produce a variety of important physiologic processes. There are cannabinoid receptors in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system and more, and while cannabinoids are often associated with the THC produced by the cannabis plant, today I am referring to the cannabinoids that occur naturally in your body. 

Your body is actually hard-wired to respond to cannabinoids through its unique cannabinoid receptor system. Research is ongoing on just how far its impact on your health reaches, but to date it's known that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in many body processes, including metabolic regulation, cravings, pain, anxiety, bone growth, and immune function.

In fact, dysregulation or hyperstimulation of your endocannabinoid system has been linked to the development of metabolic syndrome -- a condition characterized by central obesity, hypertension, and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism that increases your risk of heart disease.

New research published in Nutrition & Metabolism showed that mice fed a high-fat diet that increased endocannabinoid levels in all tissues in a way that might lead to metabolic syndrome were favorably influenced by krill oil supplementation. The study revealed that the omega-3 fats in krill oil helped to reduce endocannabinoid precursor availability in the mice, and in so doing reduced their risk of metabolic syndrome and therefore heart disease.

Krill Oil Proving to Have Better Metabolic Effects than Fish Oil

In the realm of animal-based omega-3 fats, krill oil and fish oil are the two major players. But there is reason to believe that krill oil actually offers superior benefits.

Fish oil is certainly more widely known, and this is related to the fact that the bulk of the published studies are done with fish oil and not krill oil. That is changing, as you can see in the study above, which used krill oil, but it will take many decades before krill oil catches up to fish oil in terms of popularity.

That said, it just doesn't make sense that you and your family have to wait decades to get the benefits of krill oil, as it is, in my opinion, the preferred choice.

Not one but two recent studies illustrate the superior benefits of krill oil over fish oil. The first study, published in January, found that the metabolic effects of the two oils are "essentially similar," but that krill oil is as effective as fish oil despite the fact that it contains less EPA and DHA. This finding corresponds with unpublished data suggesting that krill oil is absorbed up to 10-15 times as well as fish oil, which would explain this discrepancy.

But what makes it that much more absorbable?

In a nutshell, it has to do with its molecular composition.

Fish oil is in a triglyceride molecule that has to be broken down in your gut to its base fatty acids of DHA and EPA. About 80-85 percent is never absorbed and is eliminated in your intestine (this is why fish oil can cause you to experience burp back and why about half of all people cannot tolerate fish oil). Then once the fatty acids are absorbed into your blood stream, your liver has to attach it to phoshphatidyl choline for it to be used by your body.

The amazing beauty of krill is that it is already in the correct form in the capsule, so your body uses virtually 100 percent of it. Additionally krill oil naturally contains the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, which prevents the perishable DHA and EPA from going rancid, which is another problem with fish oil. The vast majority of fish oil being sold is actually rancid before you even open the bottle, because it doesn't have this protective antioxidant.

Krill Oil Reduces Triglyceride Levels Faster

It's worth noting that compared to a statin drug, both fish- and krill oil are VASTLY more efficient. But krill is the most effective in the shortest amount of time, according to a second study that compared the efficiency of krill oil and fish oil in reducing triglyceride levels. Over a six-week period, rats divided into three groups had their diets supplemented with 2.5 percent krill oil, 2.5 percent fish oil, or no supplement at all.

In less than three weeks, both oils had markedly reduced the enzyme activity that causes the liver to metabolize fat, but the krill oil had a far more pronounced effect, reducing liver triglycerides significantly more. The higher potency of krill oil, which I just discussed, allows it to decrease triglyceride levels in a shorter period of time compared to fish oil.

Overall, after six weeks of supplementation, cholesterol levels in the krill oil group declined by 33 percent, compared to 21 percent in the fish oil group. Liver triglycerides were reduced by TWICE as much -- 20 and 10 percent respectively. This is particularly important, as fasting triglyceride levels are a powerful indication of your body's ability to have healthy lipid profiles, which can be indicative of your heart health.

More Reasons Why Omega-3s are Important for Your Heart

As the above study on endocannabinoids revealed, the benefits of omega-3 fats go far beyond normalizing your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. 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.

Further, omega-3 fat improves endothelial function, a major factor in promoting the growth of new blood vessels, and has beneficial effects on your heart's electrical system, preventing potentially life-threatening heart rhythm disorders.

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 -- and, yes, I view omega-3 fats not as just another supplement, but as an essential food you need to include in your diet.

Krill is a Highly Sustainable Food Source

Some people are concerned that using krill will harm ocean wildlife, but krill is the most abundant biomass on Earth, amounting to about 500 million tons. Despite its growing popularity as a food source, less than 2 percent is harvested.

Contrary to a statement made by National Geographic that told only part of the story, human consumption of krill oil does not steal significant food from our whales. In fact, harvesting fish for their oil creates far more of an environmental burden and is less sustainable than harvesting krill, as 90 percent of the fish that swam in the oceans 60 years ago are now gone due to overfishing.

Most harvested fish are ground up into fishmeal that gets fed to other fish, particularly farm-raised fish.

In fact, not only is krill the largest biomass in the world, but krill harvesting is one of the best regulated on the planet, using strict international precautionary catch limit regulations that are reviewed regularly to assure sustainability. For more on this, please read my 2009 article about this issue.

In addition to the environmental concerns with harvesting fish, many fish oils on the market today are contaminated with relatively large amounts of metals and toxic chemicals. Toxins like mercury are typically screened for, at least in higher quality brands. However, there are many toxins that are NOT routinely screened for, including PCBs, dioxin, and radioactive strontium, to name a few.

Krill avoid this contamination because they are much lower in the food chain than fish and have had very little time to accumulate toxins.

Why Fish and Flax are Not the Best Sources of Omega-3

Remember that whenever possible it is best to obtain your nutrients from foods rather than supplements, but in some cases this is not practical or wise, and omega-3 is one example of this. Plant-based omega-3 sources like flax, hemp and chia are high in ALA and are important sources of nutrients. However, ALA has to be converted by your body into the far more essential EPA and DHA by an enzyme in which the vast majority of us are deficient.

It is essential to get some of your omega-3 fats from animal sources so you will have premade DHA and EPA.

In a perfect world, you would be able to get all the animal-based omega-3 fats you need by eating fish. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our fish supply is now heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants and toxins like mercury, PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals and radioactive poisons, so I just can't recommend it any longer.

There are suppliers, like Vital Choice, that do harvest fish from less polluted areas of the world. Fish from these suppliers will be less contaminated and may be a viable option for your omega-3.

My preferred choice for animal-based omega-3 fats is krill oil, not only because of the superior efficacy, oxidation protection and absorption as I discussed above, but also because, as I mentioned earlier, krill is a completely sustainable and environmentally friendly source.

It's now very clear that omega-3 fats in their pure, animal-based form may provide incredible health benefits to people of all ages. Making sure you get yours daily is emerging as one of the simplest and most powerful things you can do to protect your heart and overall health.