Fish Oil for Better Blood Pressure?

high blood pressure
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When it comes to controlling your blood pressure, fish oil may be helpful. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids (a form of polyunsaturated fat considered essential for good health), it’s typically sourced from such fish as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and halibut. Increasing your intake of omega-3-rich fish or taking fish oil in dietary supplement form is purported to keep blood pressure in check, as well as fight high blood pressure (a condition commonly referred to as hypertension).

Related: All-Natural Remedies for High Blood Pressure

Why Is Fish Oil Sometimes Used for Blood Pressure Control?

In preliminary research on animals, scientists have observed that fish oil may help improve endothelial function. The layer of cells lining your blood vessels, the endothelium is involved in a number of physiological processes affecting cardiovascular health. In turn, endothelial dysfunction is closely associated with many cardiovascular issues (including atherosclerosis and high cholesterol in addition to high blood pressure).

There's also some evidence that consumption of fish oil may help increase the elasticity of your arteries. Stiffening of the arteries appears to contribute to the development of high blood pressure. 

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The Science Behind Fish Oil and Blood Pressure Control

Some research suggests that fish oil supplements may aid in blood pressure control.

In a research review published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in 2013, for instance, investigators sized up 17 previously published studies (with a total of 1,524 participants) testing the effects of fish oil supplements in people with normal blood pressure or high blood pressure. Findings from the eight studies in people with high blood pressure found that use of fish oil supplements led to a significant reduction in both systolic blood pressure (the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood) and diastolic blood pressure (the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats).

While data from the nine reviewed studies in people with normal blood pressure indicated that use of fish oil supplements also reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure in such individuals, the review's authors deemed these reductions "non-significant." What's more, the review concluded that the modest effects of fish oil supplements on blood pressure suggest that the supplements should not be used as an alternative to blood-pressure-lowering drugs. 

Caveats

Fish oil is likely safe for many people when taken in doses of three or fewer grams per day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH caution that taking more than 3 grams of fish oil daily may inhibit blood clotting and increase risk of bleeding. Fish oil should be used cautiously (and only with supervision by a qualified health care professional) by people who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take certain medications or supplements that increase the risk of bleeding, such as warfarin, clopidogrel, aspirin, NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen), garlic, vitamin E, and ginkgo biloba.

Use of fish oil may trigger a number of side effects, including bad breath, heartburn, and nausea. What’s more, high doses of fish oil may interfere with immune system activity. 

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Two of the main concerns with fish oil are that the oil may be rancid or contain environmental contaminants found in fish such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury.

Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of fish oil, talk with your primary care provider first. 

To increase your fish oil intake without using supplements, consider including oily fish like salmon, anchovy, and sardines in your diet. According to the NIH, a 3.5-ounce serving of these fish provides about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind that some types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other environmental contaminants and that regular consumption of these fish may increase your body's levels of these contaminants.

Alternatives to Fish Oil for Blood Pressure Control

Although adopting healthy lifestyle practices such as following a balanced diet with a limited salt intake, exercising regularly, using stress-reducing techniques, avoiding smoking, and watching your weight is the best approach to blood pressure management, it's possible that certain natural remedies may also help you achieve and/or maintain healthy blood pressure. These remedies include herbs like garlic, and hawthorn, as well as such substances as cocoa extract and green tea.

Beyond Blood Pressure: More Uses for Fish Oil

In addition to possibly lowering blood pressure, fish oil may help enhance heart health by fighting heart disease, protecting against hardening of the arteries, and lowering cholesterol levels.

Sources

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Geleijnse JM1, Giltay EJ, Grobbee DE, Donders AR, Kok FJ. "Blood pressure response to fish oil supplementation: metaregression analysis of randomized trials." J Hypertens. 2002 Aug;20(8):1493-9.

Gray DR1, Gozzip CG, Eastham JH, Kashyap ML. "Fish oil as an adjuvant in the treatment of hypertension." Pharmacotherapy. 1996 Mar-Apr;16(2):295-300.

Howe PR1. "Can we recommend fish oil for hypertension?" Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 1995 Mar;22(3):199-203.

Liao D1, Arnett DK, Tyroler HA, Riley WA, Chambless LE, Szklo M, Heiss G. "Arterial stiffness and the development of hypertension. The ARIC study." Hypertension. 1999 Aug;34(2):201-6.

National Institutes of Health. "Fish oil: MedlinePlus Supplements." October 2014.

van den Elsen LW1, Spijkers LJ, van den Akker RF, van Winssen AM, Balvers M, Wijesinghe DS, Chalfant CE, Garssen J, Willemsen LE, Alewijnse AE, Peters SL. "Dietary fish oil improves endothelial function and lowers blood pressure via suppression of sphingolipid-mediated contractions in spontaneously hypertensive rats." J Hypertens. 2014 May;32(5):1050-8; discussion 1058.

Wang S1, Ma AQ, Song SW, Quan QH, Zhao XF, Zheng XH. "Fish oil supplementation improves large arterial elasticity in overweight hypertensive patients." Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008 Dec;62(12):1426-31.

Yang H1, Kenny A. "The role of fish oil in hypertension." Conn Med. 2007 Oct;71(9):533-8.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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