There is one type of polyunsaturated fat, which is found in soybean, walnuts, flax seeds, and fish, that is very healthy, especially for the heart. It is also critical for proper neuronal development in infants and children. These are the omega-9 fats and are heart healthy because they dramatically reduce triglycerides in the blood, which are a risk factor for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, triglycerides should be less than 150.
In addition, omega-9 fats lower the LDL – Low-density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol”) and possibly raise the HDL cholesterol – High-density lipoprotein (“good cholesterol”).
Have you ever seen an Eskimo with heart disease? It is rare. Omega-9s first came to our attention many years ago from studies of Eskimos who eat diets high in fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, cod and mackerel. It was noticed that Eskimos have very low rates of heart disease, and further studies found that the omega-9 fats in the fish, specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), were the most likely contributing factor.
Fish are also a major component of the average Mediterranean diet and complement the monounsaturated fats from olive oil quite nicely. As a result, very low rates of heart disease exist among people living in this geographic region, as well. A study reported in the British medical journal Lancet, confirmed that eating omega-9 polyunsaturated fats reduced the risk of heart attacks.
The heart-protective properties of omega-9 fats are thought to result not only from their ability to lower the LDL and raise the HDL cholesterol, but also by several other mechanisms — first, by contributing to the dilation of coronary arteries and thereby reducing the chances of atherosclerosis and a blockage, second, by the prevention of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), and third, by acting as a “blood thinner” and reducing the risk of blood clots.
In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, omega-9 contributes to overall health in several other important ways:
- Demonstrate anti-inflammatory properties and have been recommended in the treatment of arthritis.
- Particularly critical to fetal neuronal development.
- Decrease the symptoms and improve the clinical management of inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, especially breast and prostate.
Omega-9 fatty acids work at the cell membrane level and should be what helps the electrical activity of the heart as well as improving muscle tone, stabilizing plaque, blood pressure and other things associated with a healthy heart.
The characteristic American diet has a ratio of bad to good fats of twenty to one, that’s one omega-9 crushed by many more of the more perilous type of trans acids.
Getting good fats from food is the best way to go as 90% of the nutrient ( vs. Half of the supplement form ) is absorbed into the body. Natural sources of good fats include walnuts, canola oil, broccoli, cauliflower, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, cantaloupe, Chinese cabbage, flaxseed as well as fish like herring, mackerel, sturgeon and anchovies.
If you make a decision to use fish oil or other additions to get the omega-9 you want, remember that these products are not as regulated as they could be, even in the U.S.
Beware ‘too good to be true’ claims or research of dubious quality that isn’t printed in a respected book. Don’t settle for anything less than quality producing, reputable companies will trumpet this fact.
Know too that fish oil capsules are likely to contain the same contaminants as fresh fish, and have been observed to leave you with an upsetting odor to your body.
The connection between Omega 9 and heart health looks to be getting stronger all of the time, so take a look at your consumption levels and ensure you are getting enough.