Taking omega-3 fish oil supplements daily can improve cardiovascular health in healthy older adults, scientists have found.
Risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age because the arteries become stiffer. Arterial stiffness affects how blood travels through them and ultimately how strongly the heart needs to pump.
The most commonly used measures of arterial stiffness are pulse wave velocity (PWV) and augmentation index. When the heart ejects blood into the blood vessels, pressure increases, creating a bulge in the vessel. PWV is the speed at which the bulge ripples through the arteries.
When the pressure pulse hits a fork in the arteries, part of the pressure pulse bounces back towards the heart and combines with the new pulse coming out of the heart. How much the reflected pulse enhances the new one is called augmentation index.
High PWV and high augmentation index values reflect stiffer arteries.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine examined whether omega-3 supplements could reverse the effects of ageing on the blood vessels in healthy older adults and reduce PWV and augmentation index.
Healthy subjects ages 60 to 80 took two omega-3 capsules twice daily for 12 weeks. Each capsule contained 1,000 mg of omega-3. The researchers measured PWV, augmentation index and blood pressure before and after the 12-week regimen.
The results were compared to young healthy subjects, ages 21 to 35, who also followed the same omega-3 supplement schedule.
The researchers found that 12 weeks of supplementation significantly decreased PWV in the older subjects, supporting improvement in vascular health, although PWV was still higher than in young subjects.
While PWV improved, augmentation index and blood pressure did not. The omega-3 supplements also did not improve either index of arterial stiffness in the young subjects.
“These findings provide support for the concept that increased omega-3 intake may be an efficacious therapy in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in ageing humans through effects on central arterial stiffness,” researchers said.
The study is published in Physiological Reports, a joint journal of the Physiological Society and the American Physiological Society.