Heart-Healthy Benefits of Omega-3
July 2, 2020
Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of fats that are important for the body. Omega-3 fats are essential for the proper function of the body’s cells because they form part of the cell membrane (the structure that separates the interior of the cell from its surroundings) and are responsible for the proper function of receptors (structures found within the cell membrane that facilitate communication between the cell and structures outside of the cell). Omega-3 fatty acids are especially known for their role in heart health.
How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Protect Heart Health?
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to:
Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure over long periods of time weakens and damages the arteries (blood vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the entire body). This increases the risk of an aneurysm (a bulge in an artery that can rupture and cause internal bleeding), coronary heart disease, and heart failure.
Reduce arterial fat deposits
Research suggests that consuming omega-3 fatty acids helps prevent plaque build-up in the arteries. Scientists know that eating a diet high in cholesterol, in addition to lifestyle factors like smoking, causes plaque to build up and harden within the arteries, narrowing the opening of the arteries.
Prevent cardiac arrhythmias
Arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart beats with an abnormal or irregular rhythm—either too fast or too slow. Electrical stimulation coordinates a steady heartbeat. When these electrical impulses don’t work properly, this causes the heart to beat irregularly. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids help prevent arrhythmia.
What Foods are Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Although essential to our health, the body cannot make omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained by foods and beverages. There are 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found in fish, while ALA is found in plant oils. Each type of omega-3 plays a certain role in protecting heart health. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fatty fish including salmon, tuna, and anchovies
- Chia seed
What is the Recommended Daily Intake of Omega-3?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating 2 servings of fish (fish contains both EPA and DHA omega-3 fats) every week for good heart health. One serving of fish is outlined as 3.5 ounces of cooked fish or ¾ of a cup of flaked fish.
There are currently no daily intake recommendations for ALA omega-3 fats (found in plant oils), but research does show that including them in your diet reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Healthy individuals can typically get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their diet. People who have already suffered a cardiac event like a heart attack may benefit from taking a daily omega-3 supplement. However, it’s important to discuss what type of supplement you should be looking for as well as the dose with your doctor.