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Omega-3 and Heart Disease in Women with Type 1 Diabetes

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Research has long supported the position that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart health. Omega-3 is found primarily in fish and consuming it regularly (at least twice a week) is known lower high blood pressure, slow down the plaque formation process that clogs up the arteries, lower triglyceride levels, and lessen the risk of developing arrhythmias (which may lead to a sudden heart attack and death). I myself pop-a-top twice a week on a little can of tuna (okay, so it’s not the tastiest fish on the market but it is fish!), and on days when fish isn’t in the eating equation, I dutifully swallow the recommended horse pills, excuse me, I guess that’s actually fish pills, of omega-3 fish oil. It’s seems a small, and relatively easy, thing to do in order to give my heart a healthier chance.

Omega-3 fish oil – it’s a good thing! Eat a little fish here and there, take a few omega-3 supplements, and your heart should be in good shape. Right? Wrong! New research which has recently been released seems to contradict conventional wisdom on the usage of omega-3, at least for some subsets of people.

One recent University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study challenged the current accepted belief that omega-3 consumption reduces the risk of heart disease for everyone. According to study findings, omega-3 did not appear to help our sisters with type 1 diabetes lower their risk of heart disease. The results were surprising, particularly in light of the fact that the findings were limited to women with type 1 diabetes - men with type 1 diabetes did not share the same result.

Persons with diabetes are at a much greater risk for developing heart disease than the general population. In order to better protect the heart health of diabetics, it only makes sense that we should know and understand as much as possible about how the disease may affect a diabetic’s heart health or impact treatment options for heart disease. Long-term in nature, the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications Study began in 1986 to examine the complications arising from diabetes which first presented in the formative childhood years.

Initially, the study began with 601 participants (both men and women) all of whom had type 1 diabetes. In all, 27.6 percent (166 participants) developed some type of heart disease throughout the study. Very few of the study participants regularly consumed omega-3. However, among those who made omega-3 as a part of their daily dietary lifestyle, men who consumed the most omega-3 were found to have the lowest rates of heart disease. Unfortunately for the women participants, the results were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Even among women who consumed high quantities of omega-3, no heart healthy benefits were found. For the type 1 diabetic women, fish oil consumption appeared to have little or no change on the instance of heart disease.

Since the study results are so interesting, my bet is that more studies will be on the horizon to continue to study and explore heart health and women with type 1 diabetes. One thing that appears obvious from the study results is that the men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus theory extends even into our heart health.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Health and the results are to be presented at the 70th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association. Study authors are: Cathy E. Lloyd, Ph.D., and Trevor Orchard, M.D. (University of Pittsburgh).

Fish, Levels of Mercury and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, American Heart Associations, 2010, http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3013797

Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, American Heart Association, 25 May 2010, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences (2010, June 26). No heart benefit from Omega-3 in women with type 1 diabetes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2010/06/100627093603.htm

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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