Japan has the lowest rate of coronary heart disease than any other developed country. Researchers recently compared levels of marine derived omega 3 fatty acids in a cross-sectional study of 281 Japanese men (born and living in Japan), 306 white men (white men born and living in the United States), and 281 Japanese American men (Japanese men born and living in the United States). Serum levels of concentrated fatty acids were measured, as well as coronary artery calcium, or CAC, and IMT (a measurement of the thickness) of the carotid artery wall.
The purpose of the research was to determine whether marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids had an effect on atherosclerosis, by comparing Japanese to white populations. The study, published in the August 5, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, involved 868 randomly selected men aged 40 to 49, who completed a lifestyle questionnaire, physical exam, and blood tests to measure cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acid levels. The results showed that Japanese men had the lowest levels of atherosclerosis, and whites and Japanese Americans had comparable, higher levels.
The study, known as Electron-Beam Tomography, Risk Factor Assessment Among Japanese and US Men in the Post-World War II Birth Cohort (ERA JUMP), led by Dr Akira Sekikawa (University of Pittsburgh, PA, and Shiga University of Medical Science, Japan), showed that Japanese men living in Japan had twice the blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Findings that Japanese American men had similar or greater levels of atherosclerosis, compared with US white men, has lead the researchers to rule out the role of genetics as an explanation for the lower incidence of atherosclerosis and non-fatal coronary events seen in Japanese men living in Japan.
Dr. Sekikawa says, "Our findings indicate that the antiatherogenic effect of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids is likely to be present only in populations with fish intake well above those of most Western populations. It thus appears unlikely that short-term supplementation in a low-fish-intake population would show such a relationship." The authors conclude, "If the high intake of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids in Japanese men is the primary reason for their extremely low CHD mortality in the face of high traditional cardiovascular risk factors, dietary interventions to increase marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids in the US and other countries where fish intake is not as high as in Japan could have a very substantial impact on CHD."
The message to eat more fish, or supplement with fish oil capsules, is not a new one. According to the American Heart Association, two servings of fish per week, in addition to tofu, flaxseed, canola and walnut oils (which become omega 3’s), can help prevent heart disease, and benefit those who already have it.
You will also be interested in the EPA’s, fish advisory, as fish caught in certain places should be avoided. The current study again supports the role of proper nutrition, through decades of good eating, for prevention and management of existing heart disease.
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