Omega 3s and Heart Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in western nations, taking the lives of over 630,000 Americans each year, split evenly between men and women. 1 in 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm)
Because heart disease plagues industrialized countries more frequently than developing countries, it seems likely that the Standard American Diet may be a major culprit in the epidemic. One element that might be contributing to widespread heart disease is the deficiency of omega-3s in most American’s diet. Harvard Medical School published a review stating that Greenland Eskimos, who have a diet high in Omega-3s, have a lower mortality rate from coronary heart disease than do Americans. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18541598)
Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a group of essential fatty acids, which means they must be consumed from the diet, and cannot be made by the body, and are necessary for overall health. There are 3 types of omega-3s found in food: ALA, EPA, and DHA.
ALA is a plant-based omega-3 found in green leafy vegetables, flaxseeds, chia seeds and canola, walnut and soybean oils (which get rancid quickly and are not recommended.) They are the least bioavailable because the body has to convert ALA to use it through an inefficient process. Both EPA and DHA are found in fish, algae, and krill oil, and are in a form your body can synthesize without being converted.
The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of two servings of fatty fish per week, but many researchers believe that Americans could benefit from much higher amounts. The fish that are highest in omega-3s are mackerel, herring, wild-caught salmon, albacore tuna, and sardines.
Here are 6 benefits that adding omega-3s will do for your heart:
- Reduce Triglycerides
Triglycerides are a fat molecule that forms when the body removes excess glucose from the blood. High levels of triglycerides are one of the top risk factors associated with heart disease. However, the FDA has approved two omega-3 formulations to treat high triglycerides. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24200766 The AHA recommends that those with high triglycerides should consume even higher doses of omega-3s.
- Regulate Cholesterol For preventing heart disease, one’s total cholesterol number is not as important as the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol. Omega-3s improve this ratio by raising HDL (good) cholesterol. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22113870)
- Lower High Blood Pressure
One study found that 3 servings of salmon a week for 8 weeks lowered blood pressure in overweight young adults. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19487105)
- Decrease Plaque Buildup
Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of plaque that happens in the inside of the arteries, or endothelial, over time. A 2012 review of 16 studies on the effects of omega-3s concluded, “The protective effect of omega-3 on endothelial function was robust.”
- Reduce Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a group of symptoms that include high blood sugar, obesity, high triglycerides, and a high blood pressure. Together these symptoms greatly increase your chance of developing heart disease. Numerous studies have shown that omega-3 supplementation is effective in reducing markers of metabolic disease and reducing inflammation.
- Prevents Blood Clots
Studies suggest that consumption of omega-3s may be effective in preventing platelets from forming blood clots that could cause a heart attack.