Omega 3 Fish Oil and Heart Rate Variability

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Omega 3s and the Rhythm of Your Heart Beating

The contractile rhythms of the heart muscle are produced by synchronized waves of electrical excitation that are communicated through the heart. However, the beat of even a healthy heart is not absolutely regular. The beat varies as the cardiovascular system adjusts to moment-by-moment changes in demand. The ability of the heart to adjust its rhythms is called “heart rate variability” (HRV) and the greater the HRV the better able the heart is to fine tune its beat-to-beat timing without overreacting.

EPA and DHA work together to increase the heart muscle’s ability to respond to changing demands. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that daily dietary supplements of 800 mg of EPA plus 900 mg of DHA for 12 weeks given to a group of healthy men and women with low HRV nearly normalized this important paprameter.3 The improvements were found to be dose-dependent as greater effects were shown when even more EPA and DHA were consumed. In a separate study 6 months of dietary supplementation with fish oils (2000 mg total every day) increased HRV in elderly men and women nursing home residents.4

What is even more interesting is that supplementation with these omega-3 fats doesn’t disturb HRV in individuals with normal values. A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the American Heart Journal found that dietary supplementation with EPA (700 mg/day) and DHA (560 mg/day) for 12 weeks had no influence in middle-aged men and women with normal heart rate variability, confirming the safety of fish oil supplements when they are consumed to maintain normal heart function.5 Further research has demonstrated the superiority of fish oils over olive oil in maintaining cardiac stability.6 These studies serve to show that EPA and DHA intake has heart function modulating effects, rather than potentiating effects, meaning that omega-3 fatty acids support normalization of heart function in individuals and are not over-stimulating. This effect also points to the safety of long-term use of fish oils for cardiac support as a part of a wellness regimen.

Tomorrow’s topic: Omega 3s and the Speed of Your Heart Beating

3. Christensen JH, Christensen MS, Dyerberg J, Schmidt EB. Heart rate variability and fatty acid content of blood cell membranes: A dose response study with n-3 fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:331-337.

4. Holguin F, Tellez-Rojo MM, Lazo M, Mannino D, Schwartz J, Hernandez M, Romieu I. Cardiac autonomic changes associated with fish oil vs. soy oil supplementation in the elderly. Chest 2005;127:1102-1107.

5. Geelen A, Zock PL, Swenne CA, Brouwer IA, Schouten EG, Katan MB. Effect of n-3 fatty acids on heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity in middle-aged subjects. Am Heart J 2003;146:e4.

6. Christensen JH, Gustenhoff P, Korup E, Aaroe J, Toft E, Moller J, Rasmussen K, Dyerberg J, Schmidt EB. Effect of fish oil on heart rate variability in survivors of myocardial infarction: A double blind randomised controlled trial. BMJ 1996;312:677-678.

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