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A Smarter Way to Reduce Heart Attack Risk

Posted Aug 17 2009 10:07pm
Think the best way to predict heart attacks is by knowing your cholesterol?

Think again.

Researchers from the Hanyang University in Seoul, matched 50 men and women who had experienced a non-fatal heart attack with 50 age and gender-matched controls who did not have a history of heart attack. The researchers analyzed the red blood cells of both groups and measured their levels of both trans-fatty acids and omega-3's. (As readers of this newsletter know, trans-fatty acids are those spawn-of-Satan fats made by hydrogenating or partially hydrogenating vegetable oil; omega-3's are the wonderful anti-inflammatory fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish and ALA found in flax and hemp.)

The researchers wanted to see how well blood levels of trans-fatty acids and blood levels of omega-3's could predict heart attack. Specifically, they wanted to see if these two measures- trans-fats and omega 3's-- did any better in predicting cardiovascular disease than the "standard" Framingham risk scores.

Framingham risk scores- named after the famous study of adults in Framingham Massachusetts that began in 1948- are calculated using age, gender, smoking status, total cholesterol levels, HDL-cholesterol levels, diabetes history and hypertension history.

While an individual's Framingham score is 70 to 80 percent accurate in predicting coronary heart disease risk, it fails to take into account more recently recognized risk factors that could improve its predictive value.

The current research-- published online on June 9, 2009 in the British Journal of Nutrition-- found that the new measures did even better than the Framingham measures in predicting heart attacks. Those who had the lowest levels of omega-3's in their blood had the greatest risk of heart attack as did those who had the highest levels of trans-fats.

Specifically, the omega-3 fatty acid index -- which is the sum of red blood cell EPA and DHA-- was significantly lower in heart attack patients compared with controls, while total trans-fatty acids were significantly highe r. Those whose omega-3 fatty acid index was among the top third of participants had an amazing 92 percent lower risk of heart attack than those whose levels were in the lowest third.

Meanwhile, when it came to trans-fats, the exact opposite was true. For those whose total trans-fatty acids were in the top third, the risk of heart attack was a whopping 72.67 percent higher than subjects in the lowest third.

The authors note that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with decreased blood viscosity, and have anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, anti-arrhythmic, lipid lowering and vasodilatory effects. Conversely, trans-fatty acids have been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

The researchers wrote that "the fatty acid profile is more powerful than the Framingham risk score for identifying patients" with non-fatal heart attacks.

There are two take-home points here:

  1. keep your man-made trans-fat intake as close to zero as possible
  2. keep your omega-3 intake nice and high. You can do this by eating cold-water fish (like the virtually toxin-free cold-water fish available frozen and in cans from Vital Choice ) and/or by taking fish oil on a daily basis.

Vegetarians can get omega-3's from flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, but to make sure you're getting enough of the all-important EPA and DHA that were measured in the study (and that are found naturally in fish) be sure to take at least two tablespoons or more a day of flaxseed oil.

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