Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, which means your body needs them to survive.
Since these fats aren’t made by your body, you have to get them from the foods you eat or in the form of supplements.
While these fatty acids are found in some plants, fish happens to be the best food source of omega-3s. The type of omega-3s found in plants is known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while the two types found in fish include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can boost heart health. While most of the research done involves DHA and EPA, ALA shouldn’t be discounted, since it offers specific health benefits, too. How can omega-3s improve your cardiovascular health?
Here are five ways omega-3s work to keep your heart happy and healthy.
1. Lower Blood Triglyceride Levels
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the bloodstream that increases your risk of heart disease. According to Cleveland Clinic, omega-3 fatty acids may slow down the rate at which triglycerides form in your liver, lowering triglyceride levels.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that several products that contain omega-3 fatty acids are actually approved as prescription drugs and are used along with dietary changes to lower triglyceride levels in patients with very high levels.
2. Support Your Body’s Immune System
Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids and may help reduce the inflammatory response that occurs throughout the body. Experts do know that low-grade, chronic inflammation is closely linked to every stage of atherosclerosis, the condition that underlies stroke, peripheral heart disease, and heart attack.
One analysis, published in the journal Nutrients, noted that EPA and DHA, components of omega-3 fatty acids, influence the function of human inflammatory cells. Since omega-3s engage in anti-inflammatory actions within the body, they may protect against the cascade that can lead to plaque rupture, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular mortality.
3. Lowering Blood Pressure
According to one recent meta-analysis in the American Journal of Hypertension, omega-3-fatty acids DHA and EPA are just as effective at reducing blood pressure as making lifestyle changes like reducing salt intake, limiting alcohol, or increase exercise. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for stroke and heart attack, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it contributes to nearly 1,000 deaths each day within the United States.
The analysis in the American Journal of Hypertension found that when patients were given omega-3s EPA and DHA, on average they saw a 4.51 mm Hg decrease in systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), and an average decrease in diastolic pressure of 3.05 mm Hg.
Another study published in the journal Circulation also found that fish oil reduced blood pressure, particularly in those who are hypertension or patients who have hypercholesterolemia or atherosclerotic disease.
4. Reducing the Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death
Multiple large trials have been done to evaluate the effect of fish oils and omega-3 fatty acids on heart disease. In the GISSI Prevention trial, which was published in the Lancet journal, heart attack survivors who took omega-3 fatty acids daily for three years were less likely to have a stroke, a repeat heart attack, or die of sudden heart-related death. Significantly, the risk of sudden cardiac death in patients taking the omega-3s was lowered by nearly 50%.
In another more recent study, known as the Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study, also published in Lancet, patients who took EPA along with a cholesterol-lowering statin had a lower risk of a major coronary event, such as nonfatal or fatal heart attack, blocked coronary artery, or sudden cardiac death, compared to those who only took a statin.
A meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine also concluded that omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a lower incidence of fatal coronary heart disease.
5. Decreasing the Risk of Arrhythmias
There’s some evidence to support the notion that omega-3 fatty acids may also play a role in reducing the risk of developing heart arrhythmias.
Heart arrhythmias are one of the leading causes of sudden cardiac death, and traditionally prescription medications have been used to treat abnormal heart rhythms. However, many studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids obtained via supplement or by eating fish can protect against arrhythmias. One review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care concluded that omega-3s may protect patients against ventricular arrhythmias and may be useful for the prevention and treatment of atrial fibrillation.
How can you get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet to boost heart health?
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like sardines, tuna, lake trout, salmon, herring, and mackerel.
Adults are recommended to eat a minimum of two services of fish rich in omega-3s each week. You may also want to consider a high-quality omega-3 supplement, especially if you don’t get enough omega-3s from your diet.