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Jun 01, 2011

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Patients with Stents

Fish oil reduces heart attack risk in stent patients.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fatty acid that can only be found in foods, and are not naturally made by our body. This type of acid can be found in fish, such as salmon and tuna, as well as in other seafood, plants and nuts. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are apparent as early as birth, as infants not getting sufficient levels of this fatty acid are at increased risk for vision and nerve problems. While omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to brain function as well as growth and development, research has shown that they may also have numerous cardiovascular benefits by reducing risk for heart disease and reducing inflammation.

It is well known that omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent heart disease and improve the heart health of those with cardiovascular disease, but what is their effect on particular patients, such as those on blood-thinning medications after receiving a stent? Researchers in Poland investigated this question, as the effects of omega-3 fatty acids have not been investigated in this specific population before.

Stents have become increasingly common in heart disease patients, compressing built up plaque and opening the coronary artery to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. However, by placing this foreign object in the body, it can increase likelihood of blood clots, which can cause serious complications such as a heart attack or stroke. Accordingly, patients receiving stents are commonly treated with blood-thinning medications to help prevent clots and help blood to flow properly throughout the body. But clots can still form, even with the use of blood-thinners, and patients often rely on physicians to help break them up with medication or a medical procedure.

So what more can be done to help prevent blood clots in stent patients? Based on study findings, combining omega-3 fatty acids with blood-thinning drugs can help reduce risk of heart attacks by decreasing clot formation and improving clot properties. In this study, patients taking 1,000 milligrams of fish oil capsules daily experienced less blood clots than those not receiving the treatment, and when blood clots did form, they were easier to break up, taking nearly 15% less time to destruct.

While this study was small with less than 60 patients, findings are encouraging. Omega-3 fatty acids had only positive effects on patients with stents and did not take away from the body’s natural ability to form clots. While it’s important to note that the use of omega-3 fatty acid is by no means a replacement for blood-thinners and other treatments, it can help significantly improve outcomes in patients with stents when used in combination with other medications. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • What foods are highest in omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are foods containing the most omega-3 fatty acids, followed by certain fish, fish oils and nuts. Certain plants and spices are also high in omega-3 fatty acid, such as fresh basil, dried oregano and grape leaves. 

  • What other cardiovascular benefits do omega-3 fatty acids have, other than decreasing blood clotting?

  • Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to provide numerous cardiovascular benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and reducing inflammation in blood vessels. It may also help reduce risk for heart disease and sudden death from cardiac events such as heart attack and stroke.

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