Oct. 25, 2022 — Including more foods rich in omega-3s called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may help people with heart failure, a new study suggests.
ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in plants. Higher blood levels of ALA were linked to fewer deaths and fewer first trips to the hospital for heart failure compared to the lower levels in the study, Posted in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Some of the best plant-based sources of omega-3s include flax, which can be purchased in seed or oil form and is often found in cereals, baked goods, and other products. Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, soy foods, canola oil, seaweed, edamame, and kidney beans are also good sources.
“The most striking finding for us is the clear difference between patients in the bottom 25% – the lowest ALA levels – compared to the remaining 75%,” says Aleix Sala-Vila, PHD, of the Institute of medical research at Hospital del Mar. in Barcelona, Spain.
The researchers studied blood samples from 905 patients with heart failure. The average age was 67, and about a third were women. After a follow-up of approximately 2 years, 140 people died of any cause, 85 died of cardiovascular diseases and 141 people were hospitalized for the first time for heart failure.
According to the analysis, patients with higher ALA blood levels were significantly less likely to die or have a first hospitalization for heart failure than those with lower levels.
More research is needed to definitively show whether increasing dietary ALA can improve heart failure outcomes, Sala-Vila says. But for now, “including certain ALA-rich foods such as nuts in the diet could translate into cardiovascular benefits for anyone, whether they have heart failure or not. There is no evidence of a harmful effect of a daily serving of nuts, not even on weight gain.”
Diet often “neglected”
JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH, chief of the division 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 heart health,” she says. “This study confirms that a dietary factor can influence heart health, including heart failure. Until recently, the focus was on salt intake, which is very important, but not as much as some of these other dietary factors.”
However, the study does not prove that increasing blood levels of ALA will permanently improve the prognosis of heart failure, she says.
“It may be that the foods that lead to this higher blood level of ALA are the type of plant-based diet that has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, such as the Mediterranean diet. The results could also be the result of other factors that are not fully controlled for in the analysis, or study participants may be more compliant with their medications.”
Nonetheless, she says, “It’s reasonable to recommend that people with a history of heart failure or at high risk increase their intake of ALA-fortified foods.”
It’s also good advice for everyone to follow a heart-healthy diet, including lots of ALA, she adds.
“Have a large salad or a few smaller salads every day, add canola or flaxseed oil and sprinkle with a few nuts,” she advises. “It will give you a high intake of ALA every day.”