Polluted air and heart health: Omega-3 fatty acids may protect against the negative effects of air pollution
11/03/2019 // Darnel Fernandez // Views

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients with a variety of benefits that boost general health, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and relieving inflammation. Now, recent evidence suggests that omega-3 intake can also fight the harmful effects of air pollution.

A study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology found that dietary fish oil supplements packed with omega-3 have cardioprotective effects against air pollution in highly polluted areas.

Protection comes in small packages

Researchers from Shanghai's Fudan University, in collaboration with Texas A&M University and Michigan State University, aimed to determine whether omega-3 supplementation can protect cardiovascular health against the effects of PM2.5, which is a fine particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers.

What makes these tiny particles dangerous is that not only can they affect the lungs, but they can also seep into the body and travel through the bloodstream. This could trigger chronic diseases like heart attack, asthma, and bronchitis. (Related: Are omega-3 foods the key to protecting yourself against toxic air pollution?)

For their study, the researchers conducted a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial involving 65 healthy college students in Shanghai. They randomly assigned the participants to either an intervention group or a control group to compare the effects.

In a five-month time frame, the intervention group was given 2.5 g of dietary fish oil supplements every day. The control group was given two placebo capsules of the same dosage, containing sunflower seed oil instead of fish oil.


During the last two months of this treatment, the researchers conducted four rounds of health examinations on both groups to measure blood pressure and 18 biomarkers of cardiovascular health. Further, the researchers analyzed the acute effects of PM2.5 within each group.

The results showed that the fish oil group had relatively stable biomarker levels in response to PM2.5 exposure. On the other hand, the biomarkers of the placebo group showed significant and negative responses to PM2.5 exposure.

The researchers observed positive effects of fish oil supplementation on five biomarkers of blood inflammation, coagulation, endothelial function, oxidative stress, and neuroendocrine stress. For example, they saw significant differences in fibrinogen, a biomarker for coagulation, between the two groups.

In conclusion, the researchers wrote: “This interventional study suggests that dietary omega-3 fatty acids supplementation may have short-term benefits in mitigating potential adverse cardiovascular effects in response to high levels of PM2.5.”

Pollution and omega-3 intake

Air quality in plenty of cities around the world fails to meet the safety standards by the World Health Organization (WHO). Their data shows that 91 percent of the world's population live in places that exceed the limits of WHO guidelines. Even the safety of one's home has been compromised, with 3.8 million deaths annually being attributed to household air pollution.

The results of the Shanghai study suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can help protect the cardiovascular health of those living in areas with relatively heavy air pollution. With the growing amount of air pollution affecting society, finding ways to protect oneself against these harmful effects should be top priority.

Here are some foods that you can add to your diet to help increase your daily omega-3 intake:

  1. Chia seeds. These nutrient-dense seeds can provide a whopping 5,060 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 per one-ounce serving.
  2. Salmon. Most people consider salmon as one of the most nutrient-dense foods available on the market. Not only does it give you high-quality protein, but it also provides you with 4,123 mg of omega-3 fatty acids in a single serving.
  3. Walnuts.  These healthful nuts are packed with nutrients and dietary fiber, which is known to improve digestive health. At 2,570 mg of omega-3 per ounce, these nuts may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Pollution is a major environmental problem that threatens the general public's health every day. Implementing omega-3 fatty acids to your diet can help improve your overall health while keeping up a resistance against the harmful effects of PM2.5 exposure.

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