Results published in Circulation indicated that the highest average levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a 29% reduction in the risk of atrial fibrillation, compared with the lowest average levels, while the effects seemingly linked to DHA levels more so that EPA.
“Our findings suggest that omage-3 fatty acids could be beneficial for the prevention of onset of atrial fibrillation in older individuals, a group at particularly high risk,” wrote researchers led by Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, from the Harvard School of Public Health.
“Given the aging of the population, the significant and growing public health burden of atrial fibrillation, and the limited treatment options once atrial fibrillation develops, our results highlight the need to investigate atrial physiological and arrhythmic mechanisms affected by total and individual [omega-3 fatty acids] and to test the efficacy of [omega-3 fatty acids] for preventing new onset of atrial fibrillation among older adults in a randomized intervention.”
The study’s findings were described as ‘very promising’ by Harry Rice, PhD, VP, regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
Dr Rice told NutraIngredients-USA: “Whenever there is the prospect of a substance having a role in the primary prevention of a disease, it's a potential game changer from an economic, not to mention quality of life, perspective.
“I look forward to learning what follow-up studies may be in the works. This is very promising!”
The study adds to an ever-growing body of science supporting the potential cardiovascular and brain health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
The heart health benefits of fish oil, and the omega-3 fatty acids it contains, are well-documented, being first reported in the early 1970s by Dr Jorn Dyerberg and his co-workers in The Lancet and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
To date, the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been linked to improvements in blood lipid levels, a reduced tendency of thrombosis, blood pressure and heart rate improvements, and improved vascular function.
The new study is said to be the first prospective study to investigate the association of fatty acid biomarkers with atrial fibrillation among older Americans.
Dr Mozaffarian and his co-workers analyzed data from 3,326 US men and women with an average age of 74. During the course of the study, 789 cases of atrial fibrillation were reported.
Results showed that the highest average levels of both total omega-3 fatty acids and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) were associated with a reduction in the risk of atrial fibrillation of about 25%.
“When evaluated continuously as percent of total fatty acids, each 1% higher total [omega-3 fatty acids] was associated with 9% lower risk of atrial fibrillation,” added the researchers.
However, levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid) were not associated with atrial fibrillation risk.
Supporting the guidelines
“Several national and international dietary guidelines recommend 1 to 2 servings of fish per week (preferably oily fish) to obtain about 250 mg or more [omega-3 fatty acids] per day, based on the consistency of evidence supporting the efficacy of [omega-3 fatty acids] to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease mortality,” wrote Dr Mozaffarian and his co-workers.
“Our findings provide evidence that dietary [omega-3 fatty acids] could also provide protection against onset of atrial fibrillation later in life.
“The observed attenuation of the inverse association between fish consumption and incidence of atrial fibrillation after adjustment for phospholipid [omega-3 fatty acids] levels further supports the hypothesis that [omega-3 fatty acids] are a major bioactive component in fatty fish that could lower risk of atrial fibrillation.”
Volume 125, Pages 1084-1093, doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.062653
“Association of Plasma Phospholipid Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids With Incident Atrial Fibrillation in Older Adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study”
Authors: J.H.Y. Wu, R.N. Lemaitre, I.B. King, X. Song, F.M. Sacks, E.B. Rimm, S.R. Heckbert, D.S. Siscovick, D. Mozaffarian