Or “The Case Of The Mistaken Omega”
Researchers in the UK recently conducted a meta-analysis of 79 studies on fish oil supplementation including over 112,000 people. They concluded that omega 3’s have “little to no benefit” for heart health. (1)
This is not the first study to call into question the science behind Omega-3’s and heart heath. Another one, published several years ago in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology was entitled: “Fishing” for the origins of the “Eskimos and heart disease” story: facts or wishful thinking?” (2)
As a clinician with first-hand experience studying the effectiveness of omega fatty acids, I agree.
My clinical research corroborates these findings with one important difference:
We believe we’ve discovered the ingredient in fish oil that everyone’s been looking for all along.
Please continue reading for more about that below.
Fish Oil For Heart Health
Since the 1970’s scientists, nutritionists, and the medical community have been recommending fish oil for heart health, particularly Omega-3 (EPA/DHA).
What we’ve recently discovered is that Omega 3’s are great for the eyes and brain, and another, lesser-known omega… Omega-7, which is derived from the same oily fish, offers extraordinary heart health benefits.
Let me explain how we got here. I’ll start at the beginning.
The Inuit Paradox
It all started in the 1970’s when beloved Danish physicians Jorn Dyerberg and Hans Olaf Bang, discovered that the Greenland Eskimos had a low prevalence of coronary artery disease (CAD).
And so Drs. Dyberberg and Bang set out on a couple of dogsleds to an area of Greenland north of the Arctic Circle to study the blood and the diet of this population.
The Inuit Tribe, or the Greenland Eskimos, ate seal and whale blubber, and other oily fish, and little vegetables or fruit, but had very low incidence of heart disease—5.3%. Their Danish counterparts consumed a Western diet, and their incidence of heart disease was higher—40%.
This is what’s called the Inuit Paradox. Because it flies against conventional thinking on nutrition. How can people who eat a diet consisting mainly of animal fats, and rarely any vegetables, be healthier than their Danish neighbors, who by western standards, eat a normal diet? (3)
Drs. Dyerberg and Bang set out to evaluate the blood and the diet of the Intuit tribe. They surmised there must be something in Omega-3‘s (4) to help prevent cardiovascular disease in Western countries.
After evaluating the diets of 7 people in 7 days, they noticed a marked difference in blood fats and bad cholesterol. And they posited that there must be a special metabolic effect of the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids from marine mammals, one of which was C20:5 or Omega-3 (EPA). This was the beginning of a proliferation of studies that focused on the heart health benefits of the Intuit diet, as well as a quest for a purer and purer Omega-3.
And the multi-billion fish oil industry was born.
The Rest Of The Story…
In the past four decades, the scientific understanding of and nutrition and heart health has undergone a dramatic change.
In recent years, we’ve come to understand that body fat is a living organ. And fat tissues produce an array of biochemical signaling molecules. Fat cells produce adipokines, which act on distant tissues to regulate their metabolic activity. Too many adipokines can result in higher levels of inflammation in the body.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation leads to insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, tissues lose their ability to respond to rising blood insulin levels, resulting in high blood sugar. Ultimately this results in the emergence of type II diabetes, and acute inflammation. That in turn increases the risk of cardiac events like heart attack and stroke.
Looking back with what we know now, we understand that Western diet is known for excess sugars, transfats, and processed carbohydrates, all of which contribute to the quick buildup of fat stores in the body, and consequently diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
More importantly, we believe Drs. Dyerberg and Bang put too much emphasis on one ingredient. Recent research on a lesser known fatty acid, Omega-7 (palmitoleic acid; C16:1) has shown extraordinary heart health benefits.
Until recently, Omega-7 has been overlooked.
What Is Omega-7 anyway?
Omega-7 was first researched in animals in the 1990’s in the study of weight loss, and the findings were intriguing. Harvard Medical School decided it was so important, it filed a patent to protect it.
Harvard researchers Haiming Cao and Gokhan S. Hotamisligil discovered that Omega-7 (palmitoleic acid) had special properties essential to regulation of lipids, the energy stored as fats in your blood. They called it a lipokine, a “fat that behaves like a hormone” that regulates energy utilization and storage.
Their initial research demonstrated that Omega-7 acts as a switch to turn the metabolism “on” to favor energy utilization rather than storing it as fat or sugar. Omega-7 improves insulin sensitivity and reduces the quantity of fats in the blood.
Building on the work done at Harvard, Dr. Michael Roizen and I recently performed a clinical trial in humans and saw the same results.
Our discovery was published our study in the The Journal of Clinical Lipidology in November 2014. (6)
The Omega-7 Study On CRP And Lipid Regulation
Dr. Michael Roizen designed the study, and I administered it to my patients. We chose adults who were somewhat overweight or obese and had evidence of low- to moderate-grade inflammation with mildly abnormal blood lipid profiles. In other words, we chose people with existing risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either an Omega-7 supplement providing 210 mg palmitoleic acid or a placebo. The capsules were taken once daily, with a meal, and blood testing was done at the beginning of the study and again after 30 days.
At 30 days, the supplemented group showed a 44% reduction in C-reactive Protein (CRP); the biomarker for inflammation. And an 18% reduction in triglycerides, and an 8% reduction in low density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. We also saw a 5% increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol, compared with the control group.
This meant that Omega-7 supplementation is an effective solution for patients who are slightly overweight or obese, as all the biomarkers for inflammation and blood fats point in the right directions. The results are summarized in the chart below.
Why Is The Omega-7 Study Important?
These results are significant. The most important element is the reduction of C-Reactive Protein (CRP).
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to recent estimates, about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that accounts for 1 in every 4 deaths. Every six seconds, someone has a heart attack or stroke. 1 of 2 don’t recover.
Research from the Ridker Study in 2003 out of the American Heart Association has shown people with low CRP (“Inflammation”) and Low LDL (“Bad Cholesterol”) have the best chances for cardiovascular “event-free” survival (“Event-free” means “no heart attack or stroke”).
The chart above illustrates event-free survival for initially healthy individuals according to levels of both CRP and LDL “bad cholesterol”.
The worst survival (highest risk) is seen among those with high levels of both CRP and LDL, while the best survival (lowest risk) is among those with low levels of both markers. (7)
The medical community has known for years that reducing CRP is the key.
Our research shows that Omega 7 reduces both CRP and LDL, which can help a patient who is somewhat overweight to obese transition from a high risk to low risk in a short period of time.
For this reason, in the past four years since the study, Omega-7 supplementation has become a staple in my practice for patients who present as somewhat overweight or obese.
That’s what we know now, and we didn’t discover this until recently. It is not yet common knowledge. There’s no way anyone could have connected all the dots until recently.
The Answer Was Hidden In Plain Sight
Omega 3 and Omega 7 are both naturally present in seal oil, whale blubber, and other oily fish.
What Drs. Dyerberg and Bang, and subsequently the industry, inadvertently missed were the high levels of Omega-7 palmitoleic acid in whale blubber and other marine life which made up the diet of the Greenland Eskimo. With the benefit of hindsight, we see that Omega-7 accounts for up to 16% of the composition of the arctic sperm whale. (5)
As it relates to heart health, many people have been focusing on the wrong ingredient. While Omega-3’s are great for the eyes and brain, even pharmaceutical grade Omega-3’s have only a moderate benefit for the heart.
Based on our study, and the success we’ve had using Omega-7 for heart health in my practice, it’s safe to say that omega-7 is the ingredient that scientists, nutritionists, and the medical community have been looking for these many years.
It’s safe, effective, with no known side effects. If you haven’t read it yet, here are “Seven Reasons You’ll Love Omega 7.”
Omega 3 is still very important for the eyes and brain. For that reason, I recommend a daily regimen of super-critical omega-3, and 210 mg of purified omega-7 for the heart.
What are your thoughts? Are you amazed how we’ve gotten fish oil wrong for 40+ years? There’s a huge difference between what we know now and what the public knows. How do we educate the public about the therapeutic benefits of omega-7? It could have a huge impact on public health.
(5) Fatty Acid Composition Of Fish Oils, United States Department Of The Interior, Fish And Wildlife Service (refer to Table 1; after page 10)
(6) Purified palmitoleic acid for the reduction of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and serum lipids: a double-blinded, randomized, placebo controlled study. The Journal of Clinical Lipidology, Nov/Dec 2014, Bernstein, Roizen, Martinez