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Omega 3s for Calming Blood Pressure – Nutrisphere – Medium

We have all heard how omega 3s are good for health, but a lot of the time study findings are over-exaggerated. In this post I summarise the best available evidence showing the benefits of omega 3 supplementation in lowering blood pressure.

Constant elevated blood pressure (hypertension) is a very common problem worldwide. Approximately 31% of Americans are hypertensive, while 30% are on the boundaries of developing hypertension.

Is hypertension such a big issue for health?

Yes, the constant strain exerted on blood vessels predisposes individuals to develop serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke and chronic kidney disease.

Figure 1. On the long-run, hypertension damages blood vessels and can lead to a number of serious medical problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vascular dementia and even vision loss

Hypertension is commonly treated with blood pressure lowering medication, but this costs a lot of money and there are always unwanted side effects.

The goal is to find safe and cheap interventions that are effective in reducing blood pressure to treat and to delay the occurrence of hypertension.

So why omega 3s?

The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are known to improve the lining (endothelium) of blood vessels and allow the blood to flow more smoothly, thereby helping to reduce blood pressure.

Many studies have shown reductions in blood pressure with the use of EPA and DHA, but a lot of these findings are not applicable to the rest of us.

Why?

You see, many trials have assessed the efficacy of omega 3s on patients who already have cardiovascular disease, and in those who already take blood pressure medication.

Hence, here I focus on a meta-analysis that assessed the effects of omega 3 on blood pressure in the general population in individuals not taking antihypertensive drugs.

Figure 2. This meta-analysis was designed to be representative of the general population. Here you can see the inclusion and exclusion criteria of scientific papers that the researchers used to construct this meta-analysis

A meta-analysis is a study that looks at multiple studies in one go, analysing the data over many years and summing up all the evidence in one scientific paper. Meta-analyses provide the highest level of scientific evidence, allowing medical professionals to make informed decisions.

This meta-analysis included the data obtained from 70 randomised controlled trials and analysed the effects of EPA and DHA ingestion on systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Figure 3. Systolic blood pressure refers to the highest number on a blood pressure reading, whereas diastolic blood pressure is the smallest number

Ok, let’s dive straight to the study findings now!

The researchers found that EPA and DHA reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in both hypertensive and normotensive (without hypertension) patients.

Across all 70 studies in both normotensive and hypertensive patients, EPA and DHA reduced systolic blood pressure by -1.5 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure by -1.0 mmHg.

In normotensive subjects, systolic blood pressure significantly decreased by -1.3 mmHg. Because blood pressure tends to increase by around 0.6 mmHg per year in adults, this means that high intakes of EPA and DHA could potentially delay systolic hypertension by over 2 years.

Meanwhile, the effects of EPA and DHA in reducing blood pressure in hypertensive subjects were more pronounced. Systolic blood pressure was reduced by -4.5 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure by -3.1 mmHg.

Figure 4. EPA and DHA reduced blood pressure to a greater extent in hypertensive vs. normotensive patients

Such reductions in blood pressure among hypertensive patients could prevent the need to take blood pressure lowering medications or maintain hypertensive patients at a lower stage of progressive hypertension.

However, please note that the mean daily dose of EPA + DHA that was given patients across all 70 studies was 3.8 g/day, which is quite a LARGE amount!

Yet, doses of EPA + DHA just under 1 g/day, lead to significant reductions in systolic blood pressure of -2.4 mmHg.

In most studies analysed in this meta-analysis, EPA and DHA was given to patients as fish oil. As for the control groups, patients were given other types of oils to consume, such as olive, corn, sunflower oil.

Overall, by lowering blood pressure, EPA and DHA can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, improving the quality of life in individuals and saving costs to the healthcare system.

References

Miller, P.E., Van Elswyk, M. & Alexander, D.D. (2014). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid and blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. American journal of hypertension, 27(7), 885–896.


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