Oct. 25, 2022 — Eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may help people with heart failure, a new study finds.
ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in plants. Higher ALA blood levels were associated with fewer deaths and fewer first heart failure hospitalizations compared to lower levels in the study. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Some of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s are flax, which can be purchased as seed or oil and is often found in grains, baked goods, and other products. Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, soy products, canola oil, seaweed, edamame, and kidney beans are also good sources.
“The most striking result for us is the clear difference between patients in the bottom 25% – the lowest ALA levels – compared to the other 75%,” says Aleix Sala-Vila, PHD, of the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona , Spain.
The researchers examined blood samples from 905 heart failure patients. The average age was 67 years, about a third were women. After approximately 2 years of follow-up, 140 people died from any cause, 85 died from cardiovascular disease, and 141 people were hospitalized for the first time with heart failure.
According to the analysis, patients with higher blood levels of ALA were significantly less likely to die or have a first hospitalization for heart failure than patients with lower levels.
More research is needed to definitively show whether increasing dietary ALA can improve heart failure outcomes, says Sala-Vila. But for now, “Including some ALA-rich foods like walnuts in the diet could result in cardiovascular benefits for everyone, whether they have heart failure or not.” There is no evidence of any harmful effects of a daily serving of walnuts, not even weight gain.”
Nutrition often “overlooked”
JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH, chief of the department of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, called the study results “promising.”
“Diet is often overlooked as an important factor in maintaining good health and good heart health,” she says. “This study provides further evidence that a dietary factor can affect heart health, including heart failure. Until recently, the main focus of diet was salt intake, which is very important, but not as much as some of these other dietary factors. ”
However, the study doesn’t prove that increasing blood levels of ALA will definitely improve heart failure prognosis, she says.
“It may be that the foods that lead to these higher ALA blood levels account for the type of plant-based diet that’s been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, such as: B. the Mediterranean diet. The results could also be the result of other factors not fully controlled for in the analysis, or study participants may be more compliant with their medication.”
Still, she says, “It is reasonable to recommend that people with a history of heart failure or those at high risk increase their intake of ALA-fortified foods.”
It’s also good advice for everyone to stick to a heart-healthy diet, including plenty of ALA, she adds.
“Eat a large salad or a few smaller salads every day, add canola or flaxseed oil, and sprinkle on some walnuts,” she advises. “This gives you a high intake of ALA every day.”