"Eat fatty fish to lower blood pressure" seems to be the advice you hear more and more often, even from your own doctor.
I guess they can no longer ignore the countless trials conducted all over the world that demonstrate beyond any doubts that fish and fish oil supplements can lower blood pressure.
Although the exact ways in which it does this are still unclear, it is believed to be due to a combination of factors, in particular the anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant properties of the omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil.
Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA or docosahexaenoic acid.
Elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines are associated with high blood pressure.
We know that EPA in particular helps the body to produce anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, which in turn limit production of pro-inflammatory cytokines hence reducing inflammation throughout the body.
High blood pressure is known to be a risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) and heart disease, and inflammation is believed to play a significant role in the development of these conditions. To reduce the risk is essential to include fish oil and fatty fish to lower blood pressure.
The body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own, it has to source them from the diet, but we can produce DHA if we get enough EPA.
Most people get too much of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils. Supplementing with fish oil containing EPA is an efficient way of obtaining enough omega-3 oils to restore the fatty acid balance, reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure.
Some scientists are theorizing that another way EPA could help reduce blood pressure is through its blood thinning effect. By allowing the blood to be pumped more efficiently throughout the body there is less pressure exerted on the heart.
"My own blood pressure dropped from 140/90 to 100/70 after I started eating a small can of mackerel fillets every day," says researcher Peter Singer, Ph.D., of Berlin, Germany.
Dr. Singer found small doses of fish oil effective in reducing blood pressure as the beta-blocker Inderal, a commonly prescribed blood pressure medication. He also found that fish oil and Inderal together reduced blood pressure better than either did alone.
So, if just eating fish alone doesn't do the trick, it may still add to the potency of medication, making a lower dose possible - this is why you need to discuss with your doctor any changes to your diet, as it can have a dramatic effect on the effectiveness of your medications!
Conventional blood pressure lowering medications often have detrimental side-effects on the quality of life and may lead to unfavourable changes in cholesterol levels, which means that you might need to go on cholesterol-lowering drugs as well, with their own unpleasant side-effects.
Several studies have found that supplementation with large amounts of fish oil (5-15 grams/day) lowers blood pressure significantly in hypertensive individuals.
Whether smaller amounts are equally effective has been open to question.
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (Ohio) College of Medicine now report that daily supplementation with low doses of fish oil is indeed effective in lowering blood pressure in mildly hypertensive patients.
Their study involved 33 patients (men and women) with a diastolic pressure (the lower number) between 90 and 104 mm Hg. After a four-week washout period during which the participants discontinued all medications, the patients were randomly allocated to one of two groups.
Group 1 supplemented with 2.04 grams/day of fish oil containing 410 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 285 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Group 2 was given a placebo capsule daily containing safflower oil (80% linoleic acid).
After 12 weeks and a four-week washout period the groups switched supplementation so that group 1 now received the placebo. Blood pressure, heart rate, and body weight were recorded at two-week intervals during the study and blood samples were collected and analyzed at the beginning and end of each treatment period.
The researchers found that fish oil supplementation of 2 g/day reduced diastolic pressure by an average of approximately 4.4 mm Hg and systolic pressure by an average of 6.5 mm Hg when compared to values obtained prior to the start of treatment.
The dosage studied is the amount of omega-3 in 3 1/2 oz./100 g. of fresh Atlantic mackerel, four oz./120g. of canned pink salmon or seven oz./200g. of canned sardines.
The drop was enough to eliminate the need for medication in some people.
They concluded that fish oil supplementation is a safe and effective way of lowering blood pressure in mildly hypertensive subjects, but noted one important detail: the beneficial effects wear off relatively quickly once supplementation is discontinued indicating that changes to your diet have to be permanent in order to be effective.
Another fascinating Danish study explains why you should use fish to lower blood pressure and suggests that you need a minimum of three servings of fish a week to see good results.
Investigators found that adding fish oil to the diets of those who ate fish three or more times a week did not reduce blood pressure further. However, doses of fish oil did depress blood pressure in those who did not eat that much fish.
Thus it appears that fish eaten three times a week supplies enough omega-3 oil to control blood pressure in most people, which suggests high blood pressure is partly due to a "fish deficiency".
Other components of seafood, such as potassium and selenium, may also contribute to lowering blood pressure.
Another reason why you should use fish to lower blood pressure, is its high levels of the antioxidant co-enzyme Q10, or CoQ10. This nutrients helps cells create energy.
While it's available in all cells, the greatest supply is in heart cells, because, as you can imaging, they work very hard and need a lot of energy.
In one study of 109 patients with serious high blood pressure (serious enough that they had been taking medications for at least a year), half were able to completely stop taking one to three antihypertensive medications an average of 4 months after they started on CoQ10 supplements.
So if supplementing with it can make a big difference to your blood pressure, I'm sure that adding food sources of CoQ10 to your diet would make a big difference.
The health benefits of eating fish to lower blood pressure are amazing, but fish can do much more for you.
Read the Benefits of Fish Oil page to find out the amazing healing power of fish for many other conditions and also to have some suggestions on ways to include it in your diet.
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