The easiest way to protect our hearts is to increase the amount of omega 3 in our diets. Since heart disease is the most serious complication of diabetes, nothing could be more important for us. But it’s not that simple.
A study to be reported in the September 2013 issue of The Journal of Nutrition shows a surprising connection between omega 3 and physical activity. An observational study of 344 healthy adults living in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found that those people who had regular physical activity had more omega 3 in their blood — and were therefore at less of a risk of heart disease — than those who didn’t exercise.
We have, of course, known for a long time that diet and exercise are the cornerstones of diabetes management. But until now who could have guessed that that they were so closely linked!
The Best Source of Omega 3
Some earlier studies showed that people who consume the most omega-3s seem to have the least risk of heart disease. But not all studies found this to be true. The authors of the current study examining the connection between omega 3 and physical activity on heart disease risk felt that some of the earlier studies failed to control for interacting factors.
The study’s lead author, Matthew Muldoon, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, send me a copy of the full-text in response to my request. The study, “Concurrent Physical Activity Modifies the Association between n3 Long-Chain Fatty Acids and Cardiometabolic Risk in Midlife Adults,” is now online at The Journal of Nutrition.
The best sources of omega 3 are fatty fish, particularly wild salmon and sardines. We can supplement these natural sources with fish oil or krill oil tablets. Getting a lot of omega 3 oils in our diet makes a lot of sense. So too does getting a lot of exercise.
Still, as far as I can see, the current study doesn’t show just how the connection between omega 3 and exercise works. Researchers would say that it doesn’t show a mechanism of action. It doesn’t connect the dots.
That’s not to say that boosting how much omega 3 we eat and how much exercise we get aren’t both very good ideas. They certainly are, and being active may well potentiate the power of omega 3 to help us reduce our risk of heart disease.
We do know, however, about another factor interacting with omega 3 and how it works. This factor is how much omega 6 we get in our diets.
The more omega 6 we consume the less effective the omega 3 is, because these two fats compete to get into the cells of our bodies. When we overload on the pro-inflammatory omega 6s, the anti-inflammatory omega 3s can’t do the work that they need to do to fight the inflammation that cause many chronic diseases, including diabetes.
This is another important example that consuming omega 3 isn’t as simple as many people seem to think. I discussed this complexity in greater detail at “Cutting Back on Omega-6” and “Omega 3-6 Balance Food Score.”
Whatever the connection is between these factors, basically, however, the choice is simple. Almost all of us need to get more physical activity, more omega 3, and less omega 6 to reduce our heart disease risk.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.