Can fish oils increase my HDL cholesterol?

Question: My diet, which concentrates on fish, such as salmon, sea bass, etc., and shellfish, seems to have improved my HDL levels without increasing my LDL levels. Can you explain the relationship of high fish and shellfish diets on HDL/LDL levels in the bloodstream?

A: The improvement in your cholesterol levels may be due to the foods you replaced with the fish, rather than the fish in and of itself. The fats found in some varieties of fish, omega-3 fatty acids, reduce triglyceride levels in the blood, but generally do not affect cholesterol levels.

Eating fish offers major health advantages. The primary benefit found from including fish oils in our diet is the diminished risk for sudden cardiac death. What this means is that fish eaters decrease the chance of dying suddenly from a heart attack (there are different kinds of heart attacks). Two mechanisms explain how this may work. First, it seems that the fish oil fatty acids reduce blood clotting by decreasing the stickiness of blood platelets. Second, omega-3 oils may play a role in stabilizing heart rhythms. It could be that the electrical impulses that go awry during some heart attacks are preserved in fish eaters. These protective qualities may work together, resulting in a lessened risk of sudden cardiac death that’s been found among fish consumers. Other possible health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are their potential to help lower blood pressure and protect against some forms of stroke.

Good sources include:

Eating these jewels of the sea even once or twice a week confers heart healthy benefits. Obviously an all-around healthy diet will provide even more protection from heart disease, and other maladies, too.