This is Part 3 of Omega-3s The Fats We love.
Omega-3s and heart health.
Omega-3s started getting famous for heart health because of research dating back to the 1970s. At that time, researchers found that Greenland Inuit, despite eating a lot of fat, had a lower rate of heart disease and fewer risk factors too. So, they thought that it wasn’t the amount of fat eaten that was unhealthy for the heart, but rather the type of fat eaten.
Many early studies of fish consumption and omega-3 supplementation found a lot of evidence of a heart-healthy effect. They found that people who ate fatty fish several times each week had lower risks of heart disease than people who didn’t eat any fish.
In terms of supplements, a large study found that people with heart disease who took ALA or fish oil capsules every day had reduced risk for death, heart attack, and stroke compared with those taking a placebo.
Other studies show that higher levels of EPA and DHA in your blood are associated with lower risk factors for heart issues.
Many more studies showed that fish oil helped to improve blood lipids and cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, improved heart rate and rhythm, “thinned” the blood, had beneficial effects on blood vessels, and stabilized atherosclerotic plaques.
Lately, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that the improved heart health effects of omega-3s may be smaller than we originally thought. Some researchers think these conflicting results may be due to the fact that fewer people smoke now, and also that the standard of care for people with heart disease has been improving over the decades.
The bottom line when it comes to omega-3s and heart health is there is evidence that omega-3 supplements lower some risk factors of heart disease – the evidence is just not as overwhelmingly strong as we first thought. Plus, since these supplements tend to be quite safe, many expert medical associations still recommend them for heart health.
NOTE: Talk to your health care professional before starting any supplement regimen, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medications.
How to get enough omega-3s from food
Note: This was covered in my first Omega-3s-The Fats We Love. As it’s been a while since that post I thought it worth repeating below. Read the full post here if you like.
In order to get the health benefits you have to regularly eat enough foods that are high in omega-3s.
It’s thought that our ancestral diets included approximately equal amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s. Now, our intake of omega-6s is up to 20x higher than our intake of omega-3s. This is why there is such an emphasis on getting enough omega-3s.
When it comes to plant-based sources of omega-3s, flax is the winner! Up to half of flax’s total fatty acids are the essential omega-3 ALA. Flax oil is one of the keys oils recommended by the Metabolic Balance® nutrition plan.
Canola, walnuts, and soy, are less concentrated sources of ALA, with about 10% of their fatty acids as ALA.
To eat the recommended amount of omega-3s have at least two servings of fatty fish each week. Fatty fish include salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. This is a recommendation from the World Health Organization, as well as other health authorities.
In the US, there have been consistent recommendations to increase fish intake for almost 20 years. Despite this the average American still only eats about 1.3 servings of fish per week.
Eating fish and seafood gives you a lot more nutrition than simply taking a supplement. They contain protein, vitamins D and B12, as well as the minerals iodine, selenium, potassium, and magnesium, to name a few.
When it comes to choosing fish, bigger is not better! Large fish that feed on smaller fish have higher concentrations of toxins in their fat. To reduce your intake of things like methyl mercury and organic pollutants, limit your intake of tilefish, king mackerel, shark, and swordfish. And anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, or a child, should avoid these types of fish altogether.
There are also non-fish sources of omega-3s! Some foods are fortified with omega-3 oils. Some baked goods, pastas, dairy, eggs, dressings, and spreads may contain added flax, algal, or fish oils. Omega-3 eggs are produced by hens who’ve had flax seeds, chia seeds, and/or fish oil added to their feed. In fact, hens fed the plant-based ALA produce eggs with ALA, and those fed fish oil produced eggs with EPA & DHA.
Check your labels!
I made mention of this in my post, Your Brain on Omega 3 Fats. So if you feel like you’ve read it before your memory is not playing tricks on you! If you want to read it again it’s right here.
NOTE: Omega-3 supplements are by no means a “treatment,” but can help in cases of insufficiency. In terms of safety, fish oil supplements have a long history of safety. However, be cautious if you’re planning or recently had surgery, or have a compromised immune system. Speak with your physician or pharmacist if you take pain, anti-inflammatory, or blood-clotting, or blood lipid/cholesterol medications. Speak with your health care professional before changing your supplement regimen.
For those who don’t eat fish, supplements can be an option. Omega-3 supplements are one of the most popular supplements taken.
It’s recommended that most adults get at least 0.5-1.6 g per day of combined EPA and DHA, preferably from food. In terms of ALA, 1.5-3 g per day is beneficial, and that can be from plant-based foods or supplements.
Fish liver oil, is from the livers of the fish, and also contains fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and D.
PRO TIP: Refrigerating your fish oil supplements can help prevent the delicate fats from going rancid.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health!
Some of the health benefits include reduced inflammation and pain of rheumatoid arthritis; improved brain function and mental health; and reduced risk of heart disease.
Flax is the best plant-based source of the essential omega-3, ALA. The two biologically active omega-3s, EPA and DHA, are from fish or algae. It’s always recommended to get your nutrients from food as much as possible. At least two servings of fatty fish each week is recommended.
If you consider supplementing, make sure to follow direction on the label and keep them refrigerated. If you have any medical conditions or are taking medications, make sure to speak with your health care professional.
References available upon request
Important small print you must read:
The information contained herein is NOT intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the care of a qualified health professional. Always consult your doctor for all diagnoses, treatments, and cures for any diseases or conditions, as well as before changing your health care regimen.