Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Plant Sterols are claimed to help improve your cholesterol. This is part 3 of my series on Cholesterol and You where I continue to explore recommendations I’ve received to improve my cholesterol levels. What are they and what affect do they have?
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oil, are polyunsaturated fats found in fish such as Salmon, Tuna, Trout, Herring, Sardines, and Mackerel. The easiest way I’ve found to control and monitor the amount I regularly consume is by taking a Fish Oil supplement. The supplement is 1000mg of fish oil and provides 300mg of Omega 3 fatty acids per dose. I take three of these every day; providing 900mg of Omega 3 fatty acids.
When searching for information on Omega 3 fatty acids I found some interesting trends.
- They help lower triglycerides.
- They may lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
- They may increase high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
Fine, there’s some contention. Either way everyone seems to agree that Omega 3 fatty acids reduce triglycerides which are important in heart health. Even if that is the only affect they are probably worthwhile. The recommendation I got was to take 3-4 g per day. That dose is on the low end of the effective range based on research like that quoted in an article entitled Fish Oil, Fish Consumption, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Do They Lower Cholesterol?.
Ingesting 900 mg of omega-3 fatty acids each day resulted in a 4-percent decrease in triglyceride levels after six months. The average effective dose used in most studies was between 2 to 4 grams, and this resulted in an average drop in triglycerides between 25 to 45 percent.
But there are some side-effects to taking Omega 3 fatty acids. Most suggest that the benefits far out weigh the risk, but it emphasize the importance of discussing any changes with your doctor, first.
The problem is that Omega 3 fatty acids may also act as an anticoagulant to prevent blood from clotting.
Before starting to explore how to improve my cholesterol numbers I had never heard of plant sterols. They are naturally occurring steroid alcohols in plants. Since 2000 the FDA has been recommending them as a way to lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL). This article states two opposing views:
40 clinical studies indicate that phytosterols [plant sterols] taken as dietary supplements can induce a reduction of LDL-cholesterol up to 15%.
These ﬁndings were the reason for Health Canada, the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, to raise signiﬁcant safety issues and not to allow functional foods enriched with plant sterol esters to be sold in Canada
The controversy is based in secondary research that links high levels of plant sterols to increased risk of coronary heart disease. More research is still needed, but this tip may be under scrutiny. For now taking 2g of plant sterols per day is a sure way to lower LDL levels.
When I retest my cholesterol levels I may reconsider this tip, if my LDL levels have dropped sufficiently. Talk about the tradeoffs with your doctor.