If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 40 years, you may not have heard the news: Fish oil is good for you. In fact, it’s one of the most beneficial supplements you can take because it influences so many aspects of heath and athletic performance. It has been well established, for example, in functional medicine research that supplemental fish oil offers benefits that range from neurological health to cardiovascular health to skin and eye health…well, you get the idea. But there’s much more to this story.
Most of the fish-oil studies have only looked at the long-term benefits of the essential oils EPA and DHA. While the beneficial results have been quite conclusive, within the past couple of years the acute effects of fish oil have finally begun to be brought to light. Most notably, these studies have focused on arterial stiffness and other measures of vascular function. As functional medicine expert Dr. Mark Houston lectured in his recent seminar on cardiovascular health at the Poliquin Strength Institute, these findings may impact clients who are concerned with both cardiovascular health and athletic performance.
The most recent study of note was just reported online in the March 2010 Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In this study, researchers in the UK tested 25 individuals for the short-term effects of adding 4.7 grams of EPA and DHA to a medium-fat meal. They found a reduction in post-prandial arterial stiffness – not within days or weeks, but within four hours or less! From a technical standpoint, the researchers suggested that this may have been due to an increase in a known vasodilator called nitric oxide (NO) that improves blood flow.1
Another study (from 2008) showed similar findings, that is, increases in endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), an enzyme that is used to produce nitric oxide.2 These results correlated with the 2010 study by studying the four-hour effects of adding EPA and DHA to a fatty meal. And a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in February 2008 by researchers from King’s College in London also found reductions in a stiffness index blood marker at six hours post-prandial.3
What does all this mean for heart health and athletes? For heart health, an increase in vasodilation is typically associated with a lowering of blood pressure. Blood pressure is an independent risk factor for heart attack, meaning that even if everything else looks good, if you have high blood pressure you are at an increased risk for a heart attack. High blood pressure also can affect the health of organs such as the brain, eyes and kidneys. There also may be implications related to atherosclerosis, blood clotting and even angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels).
On the performance side, most athletes have become aware of the benefits of nitric oxide as it relates to “the pump” and improved blood flow to working muscles. But the use of fish oil taken preworkout is a new concept. Interestingly, it’s been known for a long time that high-fat meals (with no omega-3s) increase arterial stiffness, so fish oil has been shown to not only reverse this effect but also improve vasodilation above baseline.
Based on research such as this and recent findings in the gym, I would recommend taking 7 to 10 EPA-DHA 720 Blend softgels with your preworkout meal. The evidence is clear – start taking fish oil now!
1 Chong MF, Lockyer S, Saunders CJ, Lovegrove JA. Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition and Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research, Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK. Long chain n-3 PUFA-rich meal reduced postprandial measures of arterial stiffness. Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar 1.
2 Armah CK, Jackson KG, Doman I, James L, Cheghani F, Minihane AM. Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, Department of Food Biosciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, UK. Fish oil fatty acids improve postprandial vascular reactivity in healthy men. Clin Sci (Lond). 2008 Jun;114(11):679-86.
3 Hall WL, Sanders KA, Sanders TA, Chowienczyk PJ. Nutritional Sciences Division, School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, King’s College London, London SE1 7EH UK. A high-fat meal enriched with eicosapentaenoic acid reduces postprandial arterial stiffness measured by digital volume pulse analysis in healthy men. J Nutr. 2008 Feb;138(2):287-91.