How oily fish can mend a damaged heart

Jennifer Cockerell
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How oily fish can mend a damaged heart

Eating oily fish can help fix damaged blood vessels, a study has discovered.

Eating oily fish has long been known to keep your heart healthy but scientists have also found it can mend a damaged heart.

Diets high in omega-3 fatty acid foods could also help fix damaged blood vessels faster, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, a study has discovered.

About seven million people in the UK suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease and every six minutes, a person dies of a heart attack.

Professor of nutritional physiology Parveen Yaqoob, who conducted the study, said many of these deaths were preventable by living a healthy lifestyle, including diet.

She carried out the study by testing two emerging markers of cardiovascular disease which are of particular interest to researchers.

The first was endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs), which are stem cells made in the bone marrow that repair the linings of blood vessels when they become damaged.

Previous studies have found a higher number of EPCs is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

To test this the researchers introduced small amounts (3g per day) of fish oils to a group of volunteers of mixed ages with mild cardiovascular risk.

At the end of the eight-week period ,this study group increased their EPCs numbers by up to 15 per cent compared to a control group, Yaqoob found.

The second marker, endothelial microparticles (EMPs), are tiny circular vesicles which are shed when the lining of blood vessels is damaged.

Large numbers of these indicate a high degree of blood vessel damage and are associated with a greater risk of heart disease.

At the end of the trial, the group consuming the oily fish decreased EMPs by 20 per cent in comparison to the control group.

Yaqoob, from the University of Reading's Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, said her findings were a "surprise".

"Our study shows that fish oils could be better for our heart in more ways than previously thought, decreasing damage to the lining of blood vessels and by increasing the numbers of cells which repair those linings," she said.

She said the study also offered new insight into exactly why oily fish was good for our health as little robust research had been conducted on EPCs and EMPs until now, with routine markers of cardiovascular disease such as cholesterol usually being focused on.

"Both are of great interest because we know where the cells are coming from and what they might be doing in the blood vessels," she said.

"This means that we can try to find ways to target them to improve blood vessel health."