Fish Oil: Blood "Thinner," Plaque Stabilizer, Inflammation Fighter

High blood pressure is the most common medical diagnosis of people over 40. Nearly 9 in 10 people in the industrialized world will eventually be diagnosed as having hypertension, and the percentage is growing even in less developed countries.

In over 90 per cent of cases, scientists do not know what causes high blood pressure. There is ample evidence that being overweight or obese, not getting enough exercise, consuming too much salt in the diet, not including enough potassium-rich fruits and vegetables in the diet, stress, race, heredity, family history, and aging all play a role in the development of high blood pressure, but no one factor is the single most important cause.

What doctors and scientists do know that high blood pressure that is left untreated can devastate health. The heart is forced to work harder to pump blood through damaged blood vessels, and the kidneys are forced to work harder to remove excess fluid. A combination of high blood pressure and inflammation can lead to cardiovascular catastrophes such as heart attack and stroke.

Does Fish Oil Lower Blood Pressure?

Fish oil is not a single-treatment cure for every case of high blood pressure, but there are many science-based reasons it helps nearly everyone who uses it. Here is a round-up of the research literature on the top ten reasons fish oil can lower blood pressure and fight cardiovascular disease.

  1. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil stop inflammation. They reduce the production of inflammatory substances such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-2. Inflammation is especially injurious in the smaller blood vessels that take pressure away from the major arteries and veins. Keeping the "microvasculature" inflammation-free fights some of the worst cases of high blood pressure.
  2. Omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil promote dilation. Opening up blood vessels reduces pressure. Omega-3 essential fatty acids benefit arteries and veins, large blood vessels and small.
  3. Taking fish oil regularly lowers triglycerides. This is especially important if you have diabetes or if you consume a high-carbohydrate diet. Triglycerides are transformed into the larger, "stickier" kinds of LDL cholesterol that gradually harden and stiffen arterial walls, raising blood pressure.
  4. Fish oil helps stabilize heart rhythms. When the atrium of the heart "fibrillates," clots can form. The risk of stroke and sudden death for cardiac arrest rises dramatically. Fish oil helps prevent both atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia, severe complications of high blood pressure.
  5. Fish oil acts as a blood "thinner" to prevent clotting. Strictly speaking, fish oil does not make the blood watery! Instead, it provides the fatty acids that prevent the production of a hormone called thromboxane, which starts the process of forming clots. Unlike prescription blood thinners, fish oil does not cause bleeding or bruising.
  6. Fish oil prevents hardening of the arteries. The fatty acids in fish oil modify the production of stress hormones so that blood pressure stays lower and the white blood cells that consume cholesterol in the linings of arteries don't get "stuck" and calcify.
  7. Fish oil prevents the formation of free radicals. In the lining of arteries, it isn't cholesterol itself that forms clogs and plaques. It's cholesterol that has been modified by free radicals into a hardened form, that has to be removed by a group of white blood cells known as macrophages. Free radicals can cause the macrophage "clean-up crew" itself to calcify and harden in the lining of the artery, compounding the problems caused by cholesterol. Preventing the production of free radicals lowers the risk of hardening of the arteries.(Read more about Fish Oil And Cholesterol.)
  8. Fish oil protects the kidneys, which regulate fluid retention to raise and lower blood pressure.
  9. Fish oil prevents the production of adhesion molecules that cause blood clots to "stick" to the walls of arteries damaged by high blood pressure.
  10. Fish oil helps stabilize already-existing cholesterol plaques. Our bodies usually can function with a clogged artery. They can't function with an artery with a "moving clog." The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil keep cholesterol plaques from rupturing and completely stopping blood flow through a blood vessel that already has diminished capacity.

No matter how advanced the effects of high blood pressure are in your body, chances are that fish oil can help. If you are already getting treatment for heart disease, sure to consult with your physician before adding fish oil to your daily supplement routine, and always tell your surgeon about any supplements.

Selected References:
  • González-Périz A, Clària J. Resolution of adipose tissue inflammation. ScientificWorldJournal. 2010 May 4;10:832-56. Review.
  • Opie LH, Knuuti J. The adrenergic-fatty acid load in heart failure. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009 Oct 27;54(18):1637-46. Review.
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