Add Fish Oil to Your Workout

Healthnotes Newswire (June 14, 2007)—Fish oil supplements and regular exercise both reduce body fat and improve cardiovascular health. Could combining the two work better than either one alone?

“Only two studies have previously investigated these two interventions in combination,” said Professor Peter R.C. Howe, director of the Nutritional Physiology Research Center, School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, and supervising author of the new study. But because of the study design it wasn’t clear whether this combined intervention effectively reduced cardiovascular risk and improved body composition in overweight participants.

In the new study, overweight volunteers with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high triglycerides were randomly assigned to one of the following interventions:

• fish oil,

• fish oil and exercise,

• sunflower oil (placebo), or

• sunflower oil and exercise.

They took 6 grams of tuna fish oil per day (providing 1.9 grams of omega-3 fatty acids) or 6 grams of sunflower oil per day. The exercise groups walked three days per week for 45 minutes at 75% of their maximal heart rate.

People who supplemented with fish oil experienced lowered triglycerides, increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and improved blood vessel function. Exercise alone improved some measures of artery health. Both fish oil and exercise independently reduced body fat. Though regular, moderate-intensity exercise, either alone or combined with fish oil supplementation, had no effect on triglycerides or cholesterol, researchers still came away from the study concluding that fish oil plus exercise was a winning combination.

In addition to obesity itself being a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, obese people often have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes in a condition known as the metabolic syndrome. So it’s helpful when interventions for obesity target multiple cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors.

Several studies have found that taking omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil results in fewer deaths from coronary artery disease. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may lessen several cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure and triglycerides. In addition, some, but not all, clinical studies show that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can reduce body fat.

Most studies find that physical activity alone leads to relatively minor weight loss. While the lost pounds may be few, it is nevertheless clear that physical activity prevents weight gain. But it can take as much as 60 to 90 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical exercise to maintain body weight in the absence of other interventions, such as diet modification or supplementation. Exercise, with and without weight loss, independently improves several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including lowering blood pressure, favorably altering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and improving the function of blood vessels.

“Increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids could be a useful adjunct to exercise programs,” concludes Professor Howe, “because both therapies improve body composition and decrease cardiovascular disease risk.”

(Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:1267–74)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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