Researchers at Cambridge University evaluated data from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, a longitudinal study of 5,362 individuals born in Great Britain in 1946. Information from the year 1999 was used for the current study, during which the participants were 53 years old. Subjects were interviewed concerning alcohol consumption, physical activity, and smoking, and five day food diaries completed by the participants provided information on dietary and supplement intake. Waist circumference, height, weight, and blood pressure were ascertained during physical examinations, and blood samples were measured for cholesterol, folate, iron and vitamin B12.
Forty-five percent of the women and 25 percent of the men in the study reported using supplements. Women were more likely to consume multinutrient supplements, vitamin E, GLA and vitamin B6, while a greater percentage of men than women reported using fish oil supplements. Men who reported participating in vigorous exercise were 50 percent more likely, and women 60 percent more likely to be supplement users than those who did who did not report this level of exercise. Female nonsmokers were 50 percent more likely to use supplements than those who smoked. Women who used supplements also had a lower body mass index, lower waist circumference, and greater plasma folate and vitamin B12 status than those who did not report using supplements. Individuals with healthier diets that included cereals, fruit, yogurt, oily fish and olive oil were more often supplement users than those who did not consume these foods.
The results of the study show that there is a clustering of healthy behaviors and positive cardiovascular risk factors among some individuals, particularly women. It also shows that those who could benefit the most from supplements may be the least likely to use them.
In the last 25 years, the incidence of coronary fatalities has decreased 33%. This is due largely to avoiding the traditional risk factors. Dr. Paul M. Ridker, M.D., M.P.H. (director of cardiovascular research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston), speculates that an auxiliary list of newer predictive factors may significantly increase the numbers benefiting from 21st century diagnostics and treatment (Ridker 1999a).
For the past 20 years, eclectic physicians have judged Syndrome X to be a powerful indicator of an eventual heart attack. For clarity, let it be understood that a syndrome represents clusters of symptoms. In Syndrome X, the symptoms are an inability to fully metabolize carbohydrates; hypertriglyceridemia; reduced HDL levels; smaller, denser LDL particles; increased blood pressure; visceral adiposity; disrupted coagulation factors; insulin resistance; hyperinsulinemia; and, often, increased levels of uric acid.
Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain flexible cell membranes (Igal et al. 1997). This is important, for healthy membranes contain large numbers of insulin receptors, increasing the surface areas available for insulin binding. This is extremely important in diabetes and Syndrome X.
A number of studies have shown the protective value of fish consumption in regard to averting coronary heart disease and the incidence of sudden cardiac death. For example, a recent study reported data collected from the Physicians’ Health Study involving more than 22,000 men followed over a 17-year time frame. Researchers tested the blood of 94 male study volunteers who experienced an episode of sudden cardiac death (but in whom there was no prior history of heart disease) against 184 matched control study participants who did not experience a cardiac event.
On an average, men who died suddenly had lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Among the men with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, there was a 72% reduction in the risk of sudden cardiac death when compared to the men with the lowest levels of these substances in their blood (Albert et al. 2002; Wascher 2002).