The researchers looked at whether the consumption of olive oil, fatty fish, or omega-3 supplements could improve a person's levels of red blood cell oleic acid and omega-3 index, which is a blood marker for omega-3 levels. An omega-3 index of eight percent or above is considered optimal, while a low omega-3 index suggests a higher risk of sudden cardiac death. (Related: Consuming EPA and DHA omega-3 produces a “desirable” Omega-3 Index score and also reduces your risk of heart disease.)
The researchers examined 461 participants from the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto Miocardico–Heart Failure (GISSI-HF) study. For three months, the participants took either an olive oil placebo or an omega-3 supplement every day. They also kept a record of their consumption of olive oil and fatty fish. Before and after the intervention, the research team collected samples of red blood cells from the participants to measure their omega-3 index.
The results showed that the levels of red blood cell oleic acid reflected the participants’ olive oil intake, while omega-3 levels reflected fatty fish consumption and omega-3 supplementation. After treatment, the researchers observed an improvement in the omega-3 index of the participants who took the supplement. At three months, more participants reached the proposed target omega-3 index level of eight to 12 percent.
Based on these results, the research team concluded that olive oil consumption could increase the levels of red blood cell oleic acid, while fatty fish intake and omega-3 supplementation could improve omega-3 levels. These factors all contribute to an increased protection against CVD.
Omega-3s are not just good for your heart, they also bolster your body's overall defense against many kinds of diseases. Here are more reasons why this essential fatty acid should be a staple in your regular diet:
Before taking omega-3 supplements, note that they may cause mild side effects. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), they may include bad breath, unpleasant taste, bad-smelling sweat, and headache. In some cases, omega-3s can cause gastrointestinal issues like heartburn, diarrhea, and nausea. The NCCIH also warns that omega-3s may interact with anticoagulants or drugs that stop the blood from clotting. Consult your healthcare provider first before taking omega-3s and other supplements.