Triglycerides, Omega-3 fatty acid and cardiovascular health
Obesity and diabetes are on the rise and consequently the complications that come with obesity and diabetes are also increasing. One such complication that has caught the attention of the American Heart Association (AHA) is high triglyceride levels.
What are Triglycerides?
The fats in the blood are referred to as Triglycerides. Some of these fats come from the liver while others come from the additional calories in the body that the body does not require to use immediately. Therefore the simple relationship between the two is – the higher the number of calories a person consumes, the more likely they are to have a high triglyceride count.
The Risk of Triglycerides
A patient with an increased level of triglycerides (above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)) has a high risk of having a stroke or heart attack by causing a narrowing of the arteries. If triglycerides level is above 500 mg/dl, it can also lead to inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis.
As per care products, [Source (3)]
“There has been some debate as to whether elevated triglycerides alone are a risk factor for coronary heart disease; however, recent studies and data shows that it is indeed a risk factor and can be a predictor for other events.
The Framingham Heart Study showed a simple relationship between triglyceride level and risk for CHD. (shown data). Interestingly, for women the study showed an even more significant correlation when other risk factors were taken into account (except HDL cholesterol).”
Natural Ways of Controlling/Reducing Triglycerides –
- Get regular exercise,
- Reduce alcohol consumption,
- Eliminate sugar
- Eliminate refined carbohydrates
- Swap saturated for unsaturated fats for weight loss
- Maintain a healthy weight
As per the American Heart Association Science Advisory, [Source (1)]
“Healthy lifestyle choices, such as getting regular physical activity, losing weight, avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates, limiting alcohol as well as choosing healthier fats from plants in place of saturated fats can help reduce triglycerides. It is also important to treat or eliminate conditions such as poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism and obesity that may contribute to high triglyceride levels before turning to medication.”
Often for people with obesity and diabetes, the above mentioned natural remedies may not help in lowering the high levels of triglycerides. For such patients, doctors will subscribe to medication after ruling out conditions such as type 2 diabetes and hypothyroidism.
At present, two triglyceride-lowering prescriptions exist and both these medications consist of Omega-3 fatty acids. One of them contains a fatty acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and the other combines EPA with another fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
A recent review based advisory from the AHA, published in its journal Circulation, concludes that both kinds of Omega-3 fatty acids are equally effective.
Plenty of Positives
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved prescription omega-3 fatty acid medication to treat extremely high triglyceride levels, more than 500 mg/dl.
However, the authors of the advisory discovered that a 4-gram daily dosage is more than enough to bring down triglyceride levels ranging from 200 to 499 mg/dl by between 20% and 30%. This would benefit the majority of people with high triglyceride levels.
Another important finding by the researchers of the advisory was that the medication that contains both EPA and DHA did not increase levels of the “bad” cholesterol – LDL cholesterol in people with triglyceride levels below 500 mg/dl.
It was also found that people who consumed both EPA-only medications combined with statin therapy for their high triglyceride levels experienced a 25% decrease in major cardiovascular events, including stroke and heart attack.
Supplements Should Be Avoided
Ann Skulas-Ray, Ph.D., from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, the advisory author points out that it is strictly advised that people should not try to treat high triglyceride levels at home with non-prescription omega-3 supplements. The medical prescription for lowering triglycerides should not be replaced with dietary supplements for the long term management of high triglycerides.
According to Healthline, [Source (2)]
“”Because non-prescription fish oils do not undergo the same rigorous testing and do not all have the same active and inactive ingredients we cannot know for certain if they will lead to the same outcomes, so for people with very high triglycerides we only recommend the prescription forms,” Karol Watson, PhD, a professor of cardiology and co-director of the UCLA Program in Preventive Cardiology, told Healthline.”
The AHA released an advisory, in 2017, citing a lack of substantiation to support the statement that it could be possible to prevent cardiovascular disease in the general population with fish oil supplements. However, the AHA also noted that supplement may be beneficial for those who have experienced a heart attack or heart failure.
Still, including omega-3 fatty acids as part of your diet in fish can lessen heart disease and stroke risk. The AHA also recommends eating fatty fish, like mackerel, salmon, lake trout, and albacore tuna, two times a week.