The media run non-stop drug ads warning you to watch your cholesterol levels. Do omega-3s play a role in reducing cholesterol levels? No they don’t. The truth is omega-3s from fish oils sometimes slightly increase the levels of total cholesterol and LDL. Does that mean that fish oils are bad for you, or bad for your heart? Absolutely not, in fact quite the opposite.
Omega-3s are so well known for their support of cardiovascular health that doctors suggest them for anyone with known heart disease. They are especially recommended for everyone with elevated triglycerides, a type of circulating blood fat. Elevated triglycerides are an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High triglycerides raise the risk of heart attack or stroke even if one’s cholesterol levels are normal.
The prestigious American Heart Association suggests 1,000 to 4,000 mg daily of the omega-3s EPA and DHA for people at risk for heart attack and stroke. The majority of studies show that EPA and DHA reduce the risk of heart attack and heart disease.
Cholesterol is a complex issue. When it comes to cholesterol, knowing the total number is not enough. While fish oils may cause a slight increase in LDL in some (not all) people, they increase the size of the LDL particle, reducing both injury to the blood vessels and risk of cardiovascular events. When it comes to blood vessel harm from cholesterol particles…size matters. The smaller and denser the LDL molecule, the more dangerous it is to our health. We want our LDL to be large and more buoyant. Fish oils do exactly that.
LDL particle size can be measured as part of your annual physical. This is important since small, dense LDL increases the risk of developing heart disease. At your next physical insist on the highest quality cholesterol test. Either the Vertical Auto Profile (VAP) or the Berkley Heart Lab Advanced Testing method provide a more complete picture of cardiovascular system health than the routine cholesterol test.
The VAP Test directly measures LDL, as well as LDL particle size. If you have elevated small dense LDL, reach for your Omega-3s.
The risk of a slight elevation of LDL is strongly overcome by the omega-3 benefit of increasing LDL particle size, reducing elevated triglycerides and raising levels of HDL.
Having high HDL, the good cholesterol, brings strong benefits for heart health, drastically reducing your risk of heart disease.
More important than total cholesterol or LDL, a great assessment of personal heart risk is calculating your triglyceride:HDL ratio. Ideally, you want no more than a 2:1 ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol. Meaning, if your triglycerides are 100 mg/dl, your HDL cholesterol should be 50 mg/dl. Anything under 3:5 is considered a good ratio.