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Air Pollution, Fish Oil and the Heart

It’s not just Road Rage that can cause a Heart Attack

For most of us, this is a familiar site-driving in traffic on our way home from work. How many hours of each day do you spend in the car, breathing the exhaust of hundreds of cars and trucks?

Did you know that increasing evidence links air pollution to the risk of cardiovascular disease?  All the main air pollutants, with the exception of ozone, are significantly associated with an near-term increase risk of a myocardial infarction(MI) (1, 2)

 Fish OilFish Oil

So where does fish oil come into play?  A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives  in April, 2012 suggests that omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) supplementation blunts cardiac responses to air pollution exposure. (3)

This randomized controlled exposure study evaluated the efficacy of fish oil supplements in reducing adverse cardiac effects of exposure to air pollution.  Healthy middle-aged participants were supplemented with 3 grams/day of  either fish oil or olive oil for four weeks prior to a controlled exposure to concentrated ambient fine and ultrafine particulate matter (CAP).

Cardiac responses and plasma lipid levels were measured before, immediately after, and 20 hours after the exposure t0 CAP.  Acute changes in cardiac function and significant increases in very low-density lipoprotein ( LDL) and triglycerides  occurred following supplementation with olive oil, but not fish oil.

These findings suggest that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids ( fish oil) offer protection against the adverse cardiac and lipid effects associated with exposure to air pollution.

Why is this Study Significant?

Most studies on fish oil and cardiovascular disease have looked at the prevention of secondary MIs in cadiovascular patients who are treated aggressively with statins, beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors. (4)  The dose of fish oil in these studies is also frequently quite small. At least 2000 miligrams of concentrated fish oil per day is needed for optimal benefits.

This is the first study that I am aware of that looks at true prevention of cardiac responses in healthy adults not on cardiac pharmaceuticals. It is true that supplements should not take the place of a healthy diet.  But, to be honest, I will continue to take my 2000 mg of purified fish oil daily.  And I will be encouraging my own family to do the same.

Live Well!


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1. Beckerman BS, et al.  J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2012 Apr 1;75(7):402-11. The association between chronic exposure to traffic-related air pollution and ischemic heart disease.  School of Public Health , University of California Berkeley , Berkeley ,California , USA.

2. Mustafic H, et al. JAMA. 2012 Feb 15;307(7):713-21. Main air pollutants and myocardial infarction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Paris Cardiovascular Research Center, University Paris Descartes, INSERM Unit 970, Paris, France.

3. Tong H, Rappold AG, Diaz-Sanchez D, Steck SE, Berntsen J, et al. 2012 Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Appears to Attenuate Particulate Air Pollution Induced Cardiac Effects and Lipid Changes in Healthy Middle-Aged Adults. Environ Health Perspectdoi:10.1289/ehp.1104472

4. Kwak SM, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Apr 9. [Epub ahead of print] Efficacy of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements (Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid) in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Meta-analysis of Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-Controlled Trials. Republic of Korea.

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