Something fishy in Steelers' diet aids cardiovascular health
The Pittsburgh Steelers, a professional American football team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are the reigning National Football League champions, having won the Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009.
One big advantage the Steelers have held over their opponents this year has involved a secret supplement - the Steelers have been taking fish oil.
Thirty-six Steelers, ages 23 to 41, participated in a two-year study to determine the cardiovascular advantages of moderately high doses of fish oil. Results conclude that the omega-3 oil raised their high-density lipoproteins (good cholesterol) and lowered very low-density lipoproteins (a form of bad cholesterol) and triglycerides.
The study appears in the new journal, Sports Health: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Randomly selected Steelers were placed on fish oil while others used a placebo as the control group.Highly purified fish oil supplements with mixed levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - the two healthful polyunsaturated fats in fish oil - were used for 60 days.
Good cholesterol, or HDL levels, rose on average by 26 percent in the treatment group compared with 14 percent in the control group. The treatment group also experienced an 8 percent decline in triglycerides, while the control group had a 44 percent increase. High triglyceride levels are a good predictor of coronary heart disease. Declines in the damaging particles in LDL or bad cholesterol - including very low-density and intermediate-density lipoproteins - were also noted in those using fish oil.
Fish oil also is an anti-inflammatory agent, which allows athletes to heal faster from injury while improving attention span, reaction time and cognitive processing.
"This is very simple and safe therapy that's inexpensive," said Dr. James Ehrlich, chief medical officer for Atherotech that developed the Vertical Auto Profile test used to analyze cholesterol levels. "Their numbers look very good."
Dr. Ehrlich noted that many retired National Football League players are obese and have the precursor to diabetes known as metabolic syndrome, along with high blood pressure and cholesterol. 82 percent of 233 retired National Football League players under age 50 were found to have abnormal narrowing and blockages of arteries. About 40 percent also suffer from sleep apnea. Football injuries often render them unable to exercise after retirement. Together, the factors are a formula for heart disease.
"The NFL athlete statistically is at higher risk for future cardiovascular disease and sudden heart attack," Dr. Ehrlich said. "The study demonstrated effectively and dramatically that fish oil improved good cholesterol and lowered damaging particles and triglycerides. It went in the right direction for all of them."
Despite the small number of participants, "rather dramatic improvements in blood lipid profiles were achieved using moderately high doses of omega-3 fish oil supplementation," the study states.
The results suggest that "the professional NFL player should consider continued use of omega-3 supplementation throughout his active years and in retirement."
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