Exercise and fish oil supplement dramatically decreases risk of atherosclerosis

Nearly one quarter of all Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and each year about 950,000 Americans die of heart disease. Prolonged elevation of lipids, or fat, in the blood, a condition called post prandial lipemia, causes a temporary risk for atherosclerosis even in individuals who have normal lipid levels after fasting.

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that a session of prolonged exercise along with taking a fish oil supplement dramatically decreases a condition that leads to atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease.

MU researchers Tom Thomas, professor of nutritional science, Grace Sun, professor of biochemistry and pathology, Owen Donahue, masters student at MU, and Bryan Smith, a post-doctorate fellow at the University of Kansas, conducted the study to examine the effects of exercise and fish oil on triglyceride, a type of fat, levels in the bloodstream after subjects ate high-fat meals. The results, which will be published this summer in Metabolism, show that people who engage in prolonged, aerobic exercise have muscle cells that break down triglycerides quickly and that taking a fish oil supplement can be even more effective in reducing triglyceride levels.

“Fat in the bloodstream is a primary contributor to atherosclerosis, or partial blockage of the arteries,” Thomas said. “The results of this research demonstrate that it is very beneficial for active people to take fish oil if they’re concerned about their triglyceride levels after eating a fatty meal.”

The researchers examined triglyceride levels following meals in recreationally active males. The subjects were divided into groups in order to discern the benefits of exercise only; fish oil intake only; and exercise combined with fish oil intake. The control group subjects ate a high-fat meal only. A second group ate a high-fat meal following an exercise session. Another group ate a high-fat meal after taking a fish oil supplement. The final group ate a high-fat meal after taking a fish oil supplement and engaging in an exercise session. Each subject went through all four treatments on different days.

Results indicated that peak triglyceride levels in the subjects who took a fish oil supplement before eating a high-fat meal were reduced by 38 percent. Those who both exercised and took a fish oil supplement reduced their triglyceride levels by 50 percent.

Thomas said he hopes the research might ultimately help minimize the reliance on drugs to treat conditions in people with heart disease.

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