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Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting

By Kevin DiDonato MS, CSCS, CES

Heart disease is characterized by a build-up of plaque that causes blood flow to be halted, either to or from your heart.

When there is a block, nutrient-rich and oxygen-rich blood has a harder time reaching the heart muscle, which could results in a heart attack, or even a stroke (depending on where the block is).

In patients that have one or more blockages in the veins and arteries that travel to the heart, sometimes coronary artery bypass is warranted.

There are two different types of bypasses that are available: “on-pump” and “off-pump”.

Both procedures may have complications.  However, it has been shown that the risk for irregular heartbeats, brain damage, or stroke could be higher after bypass surgery.

According to a study published in Monaldi Archives for Chest Disease, shows supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial at reducing atrial fibrillation in patients undergoing both types of bypass.

Let me explain…

Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery

Picture that you veins and arteries are like streets leading to your heart.  If one of those streets is blocked, resulting in traffic coming to a slow crawl or a standstill.

So what is the best option?  You find another way to re-route the traffic (blood flow) around the blockage, in order for the blood to reach the heart.

This is commonly called coronary artery bypass, which involves bypassing the blockage with a vein or artery from another part of your body.

“On-pump” bypass surgery, which is the longest tried and true bypass method, involves completely stopping the heart, tubes being placed in the heart, blood being routed through a heart lung machine to be purified, then that same blood being shuttled to the rest of your body.

The risk for complications or death may be as low as one to two percent.

However, this procedure may increase the risk of stroke, decrease in higher mental function, and higher chances of atrial fibrillation.

“Off-pump”, which is a relatively new procedure, involved bypassing the artery while the heart is still filling with blood and pumping it to the rest of your body.

Like “on-pump” bypass surgery, the risk for death and complications associated with “off-pump” bypass, falls in the one to two percent range.

The Study

The authors of this study wanted to determine if supplementing patients with omega-3 fatty acids pre and post-operation would reduce the risk for post-operative cases of atrial fibrillation following coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

They recruited 201 patients who were to have a coronary artery bypass graft operation done.

They divided them into two groups: a control group (without omega-3 fatty acids supplementation) and an omega-3 fatty acids group (2 grams/day for five days preceding operation and then following operation until final discharge).

They further divided the groups into two subgroups: an “on-pump” and an “off-pump” group.

They aimed to see if there was a reduced risk for developing atrial fibrillation post-surgery in the omega-3 fatty acid group.

Their data showed the overall incidence of atrial fibrillation was 17.4%, or 35 out of the 201 people, developed atrial fibrillation post-surgery.

In the omega-3 fatty acids group, only 11.4% of the patients developed atrial fibrillation compared to the 22.8% in the control group.

They also noted that there was a significant decrease in atrial fibrillation diagnoses in the “on- pump” group who were supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids.

From their work, they concluded that omega-3 fatty acids supplementation significantly reduced post-operative atrial fibrillation patients who underwent “on-pump” coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

Although this research is new, more research is needed to understand the impact omega-3 fatty acids have on preventing atrial fibrillation following coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

However, the data they collected does further strengthen the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and improvements in different facets of heart health.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health

It has been shown that omega-3 fatty acids may be benefit heart health.

Previous research shows that omega-3 fatty acids could lower total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and increase HDL cholesterol, which could promote overall better heart health.

Now, according to the results of this study, omega-3 fatty acids may be linked to a reduced risk for developing atrial fibrillation following coronary artery bypass surgery.

Including a diet rich in fish, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, or a high quality omega-3 fatty acids supplement could improve overall health -especially as it relates to heart health.

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Sorice M, Tritto FP, Sordelli C, Gregorio R, Piazza L.  N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids reduces post-operative atrial fibrillation incidence in patients undergoing “on-pump” coronary artery bypass graft surgery.  Mondaldi Arch Chest Dis.  2011 Jun;76(2):93-8.

Shekar PS.  On-Pump and Off-Pump Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting.  Circulation. 2006;113:e51-e52.