Your Heart’s Shield Against Stress
Tired of hearing about all the reasons you should start taking fish oil supplements? This time, stick with us in the name of heart health—new research published in theAmerican Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiologyfound being on a regular fish oil regimen can help protect your heart from the damaging effects of stress.
When something stressful happens, like when you roll over in the morning and realize you’ve slept through your alarm, it causes a burst of sympathetic nerve activity—aka, the “fight or flight” response. With that burst comes a release of norepinephrine, a stress hormone that causes your blood vessels to tighten, your blood pressure to spike, and make your heart work a lot harder. After thinking about how many times a day you have that surge of anxiety, you shouldn’t be surprised at the long term effects of stress on your cardiovascular health and ability to control your blood pressure. That’s why researchers were so excited when, of 67 participants, those who consumed 9000mg of fish oil (imagine taking nearly 18 capsules) a day for eight weeks showed blunted cardiovascular activity while under stress than those who consumed olive oil for the same length of time.
The participants were controlled for various health problems and underwent a battery of tests, but healthy hearts aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the cardioprotective effects of fish oil. “The relationship between MSNA [Muscle Sympathetic Nerve Activity] and blood pressure gets much stronger as we age, especially in women,” says Jason Carter, PhD, principal investigator for the study, “and women have a much more aggressive increase in sympathetic nerve activity as they age compared to age-matched men.”
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In order to elicit the “fight or flight” response in the study, researchers made participants subtract numbers under a time limit—even more proof that our psychology and our physiology are inherently linked.
Surprised that olive oil didn’t protect better? The researchers weren’t. Despite being the heart-healthy star of the Mediterranean Diet, it’s also the most common control used in this type of research. The next step, according to Carter, is to observe the cardiovascular effects of a lower dose (say, 1000mg) over a longer period of time.
Video: The Surprising Connection Between Stress and Your Heart Health
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