Why does fish oil reduce triglycerides?

Beyond its ability to slash risk for cardiovascular events, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil also reduce triglycerides.

There's no remaining question that omega-3s do this quite effectively. After all, the FDA approved prescription fish oil, Lovaza, to treat a condition called familial hypertriglyceridemia, an inherited condition in which very high triglycerides in the 100s or 1000s of milligrams typically develop.

The omega-3 fraction of fatty acids are unique for their triglyceride-reducing property. No other fraction of fatty acids, such as omega-6 or saturated, can match the triglyceride-reducing effect of omega-3s.

But why does fish oil reduce triglycerides?

First of all, what are triglycerides? As their name suggests, triglycerides consist of three ("tri-") fatty acids lined up along a glycerol (sugar) "backbone." Triglycerides are the form in which most fatty acids occur in the bloodstream, liver, and other organs. (Fatty acids, like omega-3, omega-6, mono- or polyunsaturated, or saturated, rarely occur as free fatty acids unbound to glycerol.) In various lipoproteins in the blood, like LDL, VLDL, and HDL, fatty acids occur as triglycerides.

Of all lipoproteins, chylomicrons (the large particle formed through intestinal absorption of fatty acids and transported to the liver via the lymph system) and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein, very low-density because they are mostly fat and little protein) particles are richest in triglycerides. Thus, we would expect that omega-3s exert their triglyceride-reducing effect via reductions in either chylomicrons or VLDL.

Indeed, that seems to be the case. The emerging evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil reduce triglycerides through:

--Reduced VLDL production by the liver (Harris 1989)
--Accelerating chylomicron and VLDL elimination from the blood
--Activation of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPAR-gamma)--Omega-3s ramp up the cellular equipment used to convert fatty acids to energy (oxidation) (Gani 2008)

Combine omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil with wheat elimination and you have an extremely potent means of reducing triglycerides. Read a previous Heart Scan Blog post here to read how a patient reduced triglycerides 93.5% from 3100 mg/dl to 210 mg/dl in just a few weeks using fish oil and wheat elimination.

Comments (9) -

  • Anonymous

    11/2/2009 12:34:35 AM |

    Very informative article.  Thank you for this posting. I better keep remembering to take my fish oil every morning!

    Diane Michel
    Founder GlobalMedicalResearch.org

  • Anonymous

    11/2/2009 4:55:48 PM |

    So much for the little boy with the loaves and the fishes, huh? I did not know that reduction of triglycerides involved the elimination of wheat products. I am not sure I am up to doing that part. I may just have to die.

  • Makoss

    11/2/2009 10:41:21 PM |

    Is DHA more favorable than EPA in lowering triglycerides?

  • Ellen

    11/3/2009 10:30:19 AM |

    Dr. Davis, my triglycerides are really low at 33 (and yes, I take fish oil). They are so slow that they are below the lab reference range.

    Is there such a thing as too low?

  • Dr. William Davis

    11/3/2009 12:41:57 PM |

    Makoss--

    To my knowledge, there are no data exploring the differential effect of DHA vs. EPA strictly for triglyceride reduction. Remember also that most data exploring cardiovascular risk reduction involve both, except for JELIS which showed event reduction with EPA alone.

    Hi, Ellen--

    In fact, your triglyceride level is what I believe to be the physiologically perfect level. So, no, not too low.

  • Kamila

    12/13/2009 2:52:33 PM |

    How do you respond to this Dr Davis.

    Q: Are fish oils good for you?

    Some of the unsaturated fats in fish are definitely less toxic than those in corn oil or soy oil, but that doesn't mean they are safe. Fifty years ago, it was found that a large amount of cod liver oil in dogs' diet increased their death rate from cancer by 20 times, from the usual 5% to 100%. A diet rich in fish oil causes intense production of toxic lipid peroxides, and has been observed to reduce a man's sperm count to zero. [H. Sinclair, Prog. Lipid Res. 25, 667, 1989.] Source:http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsaturated-oils.shtml

  • Kamila

    12/13/2009 3:10:00 PM |

    Another link:

    http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/fishoil.shtml

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    11/3/2010 9:11:46 PM |

    Of all lipoproteins, chylomicrons (the large particle formed through intestinal absorption of fatty acids and transported to the liver via the lymph system) and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein, very low-density because they are mostly fat and little protein) particles are richest in triglycerides. Thus, we would expect that omega-3s exert their triglyceride-reducing effect via reductions in either chylomicrons or VLDL.

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Heart Scan Curiosities #7

Heart Scan Curiosities #7




Here's a situation that crops up once in a while, occurring in perhaps 2% of heart scans.

The white within the circled area represents calcium, and thereby atherosclerotic plaque, situated immediately at the "mouth", or opening, of the the right coronary artery. What is somewhat unusual is that this plaque is not principally coronary, but aortic. That is, the plaque is mostly situated in the large vessel called the aorta. The three coronary arteries arise from the aorta.

In this instance, the aortic plaque involves the mouth of the right coronary artery. (In views not shown, the plaque also extends into the artery as well.) I call this a "double whammy" because the same plaque can post risk for heart attack and stroke.

Generally, aortic plaques pose risk for stroke. When aortic plaque fragments, little bits and pieces can travel upward to the brain and block an artery, thus a stroke.

In the coronaries, disrupted ("ruptured") plaques don't generally shower debris, but permit blood clot formation, resulting in heart attack.

This plaque, however, poses the theoretical risk of both heart attack and stroke because of its strategic location.

Should a plaque like this be handled any differently? I don't think so. But it does provide another reason to take atherosclerotic plaque in any artery seriously.

Comments (1) -

  • Anonymous

    11/12/2008 5:12:00 AM |

    I just had my first heart scan at Boulder, CO.  My heart scan score was zero, but my descending aorta showed as mildly calcified.

    I wonder what conditions determine whether plaque builds up in the coronary arteries versus in the aorta.  

    And I also wonder how mildly calcified would score if it was in the coronary arteries rather than in the aorta.  I know how to interpret the zero heart scan score, but I don't know how to interpret the mildly calcified aorta.  Since it is in the descending aorta, I believe it is less dangerous than the case discussed here.

    Lynn

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