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As COVID-19 vaccine rollouts gather momentum, offering new protection against the disease, new and related challenges are already moving to the forefront. In the case of COVID-19, medical providers and researchers are now confronting the issue of long-term health issues experienced by people who contracted COVID and recovered.
This cohort includes both older people with pre-existing health conditions and, worryingly, younger people in otherwise good health who experienced relatively minor COVID symptoms. These symptoms include -- but are not limited to -- heart muscle damage, lung damage, blood clotting and blood vessel problems, stroke, fatigue, "brain fog" and joint pain.
With regard to blood clotting and blood vessel problems (and the related risk of stroke), researchers have begun to theorize that COVID-19 can cause a cytokine storm, leading to inflammation and a hypercoagulable state, both processes that place a patient at high risk for stroke. Health care providers have witnessed a disproportionately greater incidence of infarction among COVID-19 patients compared with non-COVID-19 patients.
How disproportionate? Last year, researchers conducted a retrospective case-control study, collecting data from six hospitals to determine whether infection with COVID-19 is associated with an increased incidence of stroke. A cohort consisting of 123 patients were included, matching patients with acute ischemic stroke (small- or large-vessel occlusions) with patients without stroke (control group) by age, sex, and major vascular risk factors. They found 19 out of 41 patients (46.3%) with acute ischemic stroke were confirmed to have COVID-19 infection compared with 15 of 82 patients (18.3%) in the control group. Thus, there was a significantly greater incidence of acute ischemic stroke in patients with COVID-19 infection compared to those without infection (1 Belani).
Omega-3 Healthy Fats and Cardiovascular Health
Clearly, medical treatments are required for these very serious health conditions, and researchers are working aggressively to develop such treatments. At the same time, as always, nutritional support for general cardiovascular health is important as well. Peak health and wellness is always your best defense against diseases both contagious and otherwise.
Researchers have long known that Omega-3 healthy fats are associated with positive impacts on cardiovascular health, anti-inflammatory effects, support of good HDL cholesterol, reduction of harmful blood triglycerides, and even immune response function. In recent years, they have focused more intently on the role Omega-3s might play in reducing counterproductive blood clotting and supporting healthy blood vessels and blood flow, which would in turn potentially ameliorate the risks of stroke and heart disease. There is much, much more study to be done in this field, but the earliest evidence is encouraging.
In a meta-analysis published in the journal Atherosclerosis, researchers examined fifteen randomized controlled studies to assess the effects of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on platelet aggregation. They determined that in comparison to placebo using the random-effect model, Omega-3 supplementation significantly reduced adenosine diphosphate-induced platelet aggregation and platelet aggregation units, and there was also a trend toward decreased collagen-induced and arachidonic-acid-induced platelet aggregation compared with controls. Thus, Omega-3 supplementation appeared to be associated with a significant reduction in platelet aggregation when the participants were at poor health status, a significant finding for high-risk patients with cardiovascular disease (2 Ling-Gen Gao).
In another study also published in Atherosclerosis, researchers assessed the effect of dietary intervention with oily fish on platelet-monocyte aggregation in healthy subjects. Fourteen subjects had their diet supplemented with 500 g of oil-rich fish per week for 4 weeks. A control group of 14 subjects received no dietary intervention over a 4-week period. Platelet-monocyte aggregates were assessed with flow cytometry. The researchers determined that dietary intervention with fish led to an increase in omega-3 fatty acids in plasma phospholipids and platelet-monocyte aggregates were reduced by 35% following dietary intervention with oily fish. There was an inverse correlation between platelet-monocyte aggregation and plasma omega-3 fatty acid concentrations, indicating that dietary intervention with oil-rich fish may reduce platelet-monocyte aggregation (3 Jehangir N Din).
In a much longer-term analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers examined the relationship of fish and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake with risk of specific stroke subtypes. They established a cohort of women aged 34 to 59 years, who were free from prior diagnosed cardiovascular disease, cancer, and history of diabetes and hypercholesterolemia and who completed a food frequency questionnaire including consumption of fish and other frequently eaten foods. The 79,839 women who met the eligibility criteria were followed up for 14 years.
They determined that, compared with women who ate fish less than once per month, those with higher intake of fish had a lower risk of total stroke. Among stroke subtypes, a significantly reduced risk of thrombotic infarction was found among women who ate fish 2 or more times per week and women in the highest quintile of intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids had reduced risk of total stroke and thrombotic infarction. The researchers concluded that the data indicated higher consumption of fish and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was associated with a reduced risk of thrombotic infarction, primarily among women who did not take aspirin regularly, but was not related to risk of hemorrhagic stroke (4 Hiroyasu Iso).
Finally, in a study published in the journal Thrombosis and Haemostasis, researchers investigated the possible regulating role of omega-6 and of omega-3 fatty acids on platelet adhesiveness. They randomised 60 volunteers into three groups to take 20 ml per day of a fish oil supplement (0.3 g Omega-6, 3.6 g Omega-3), or to take 25 g per day of a soy lecithin supplement (1.5 g omega-6, 0.5 g omega-3), or to continue on their usual diet without any supplement (control group) for a period of 15 days. Their results indicated an inhibitory effect of fish oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids on stimulated human platelet adhesiveness, while also showing increased human platelet adhesiveness in the soy lecithin group. Thus, omega-6/omega-3 ratio was determined to be a determinant of platelet adhesion, with Omega-3-rich fish oils producing the more positive blood-clotting outcome.
The Best-Quality Sources of Omega-3s Offer the Best Protection
Omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food sources which, for the most part, means fish. There is a form of Omega-3s in plants called alpha-linoleic acid (found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soy and canola oil) but these are not particularly rich sources of Omega-3s. The best food sources are mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna, anchovies, bluefish, and halibut.
There are two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids in fish, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and both have important health benefits. What quantity of Omega-3s are necessary to facilitate those benefits? Healthcare professionals generally recommend one to two grams of EPA + DHA per day. Most of the fish sources cited above contain more than one gram of Omega-3s in a standard 3-oz serving. People with high triglyceride levels are recommended to take two to four grams of Omega-3s per day, which has been shown to lower triglycerides by 25% to 35%. In those cases, physicians will often prescribe fish oil supplements.
Fish oil supplements can be enormously useful for boosting the content of Omega-3s in your diet because, let's face it, not everyone wants to eat mackerel and halibut and sardines every day. Well-sourced fish oil supplements also take the guesswork out of determining exactly how much EPA and DHA you're consuming and in what ratio.
Of course, you don't want to grab the first fish oil supplement you see on a store shelf. Commercially available Omega-3 formulas can vary widely in terms of actual EPA/DHA content, purity and potency. Indeed, most common supermarket-shelf Omega-3 products are made from inferior sources and usually offer lower potencies.
A superior fish oil supplement, like ProSource's Omega-1250, is molecularly distilled from deep sea, cold water fish sources. Both the process and the source serve to ensure the purest, most potent fish oil possible. As a result, Omega-1250 contains an ultra-potent 750 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids, standardized at a highly bioavailable 450 mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 300 mg of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per single softgel capsule. ProSource Omega-1250 is a fish oil supplement you can trust.
Fish oil supplementation is just one of the things you can do to enhance your day-to-day health and wellness in these trying times. Combining proper supplementation with a healthy diet and vigorous exercise is your best bet for defending yourself from a variety of contagious diseases and their potentially lingering symptoms.
1 Belani, P., Schefflein, J., Kihira, S., Rigney, B., Delman, B.N., Mahmoudi, K., Mocca, J., Majidi, ., Yeckley, J., Arrarwal, A., Lefton, D., & Doshi, A.H. (2020). COVID-19 Is an Independent Risk Factor for Acute Ischemic Stroke. American Journal of Neuroradiology. https://doi.org/10.3174/ajnr.A6650.
2 Ling-gen Gao 1 , Jian Cao, Qun-xia Mao, Xue-chun Lu, Xian-liang Zhou, Li Fan. Influence of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid-supplementation on platelet aggregation in humans: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Atherosclerosis. 2013 Feb;226(2):328-34.
3 Jehangir N Din 1 , Scott A Harding, Christopher J Valerio, Jaydeep Sarma, Karin Lyall, Rudolph A Riemersma, David E Newby, Andrew D Flapan. Dietary intervention with oil rich fish reduces platelet-monocyte aggregation in man. Atherosclerosis. 2008 Mar;197(1):290-6.
4 Hiroyasu Iso, MD, PhD; Kathryn M. Rexrode, MD, MPH; Meir J. Stampfer, MD, DrPH; et al. Intake of Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Risk of Stroke in Women. JAMA, 2001;285(3):304-312.
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