Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are widely believed to help prevent heart disease, and two recent studies show why.

In a joint clinical study, US researchers explored the possible benefits of EFAs for patients with heart disease. In this study, 18 white males with a history of heart disease were randomized into two groups. The groups received either a placebo capsule or omega-3 fatty acids containing 585 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 225 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) for two four-month periods in a crossover design. At the end of each test period, heart function, blood pressure, heart rate and rate of recovery after exercise were measured.The researchers found that EFAs decreased resting heart rate from 73 beats per minute to 68, and significantly improved one-minute heart rate recovery after exercise. There were no significant effects on blood pressure.

In Italy, a group of researchers conducted a large-scale trial through the public health system to work with patients of recent heart attacks. In total, 11,323 patients were enrolled to test the effectiveness of 1 gram daily of omega-3 fatty acids or 300 mg of vitamin E. Patients were asked to follow a Mediterranean diet and were treated with pharmaceutical interventions. The results showed that long-term EFA supplementation decreased the risk of overall heart disease by between 20% and 30%, and decreased the risk of sudden death by 45%. Vitamin E did not lower risk in this study.

Sources: Am J Cardiol. 2006 Apr 15;97(8):1127-1130; Minerva Cardioangiol. 2003 Oct;51(5):561-76