Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat found in fish and certain types of nuts and seeds. They provide numerous health benefits when consumed: they have been associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, and arthritis. They also provide many cardiovascular benefits.
Omega-3 in any form can help those suffering from a heart condition. According to the American Heart Association, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. And that’s not all–omega-3 has been shown to benefit heart health in other ways, by decreasing triglycerides, lowering blood pressure, and reducing blood clotting, irregular heartbeat, and inflammation.
The FDA, along with the American Heart Association, recommends that adults should eat 8 ounces (or 2 servings) of omega-3 rich fish (salmon, sardines, cod, herring, mackerel, or trout are just some of your options) a week, while children should also be eating fish at least once a week. But many of us don’t have the time to buy and prepare fish that often, especially if you’re tasked with cooking for the entire family. In that case, most people skip out on the omega-3, simply because it’s inconvenient for them to get a consistent intake of it. And if you’re relatively healthy, you probably won’t be missing out on any significant health benefits by not having omega-3 in your diet.
However, those with heart problems are more reliant on omega-3 to stay healthy. That’s why they may turn to supplements. Experts say that fatty fish is still a better source of omega-3, but according to numerous studies, supplements provide mostly the same benefits as omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish.
One study done by researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health reviewed 13 trials that involved close to 128,000 people. They found that people who took daily omega-3 supplements had an 8% lower risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary artery disease. In the study, participants took around 840 milligrams of omega-3 in the form of a supplement. Interestingly, the researchers noted that doses above 840 milligrams provided more significant benefits.
This study may sound promising, but it’s important to note that there has been no clear link between omega-3 and better heart health. For example, in November of 2018, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that omega-3 supplements showed no benefit in reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from heart disease.
So does this mean you should look elsewhere for heart-healthy foods? Not necessarily. Fish is still a great addition to your diet, due to its abundance of nutrients and minerals besides omega-3. (Make sure you’re eating sustainable types of fish, and avoid those that have been shown to be high in mercury.) But the real key to a healthy heart is to eat a balanced diet, low in fried and salty foods, which are of no benefit to the cardiovascular system, and high in vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
If you’re already eating a healthy diet, it can’t hurt to include omega-3 supplements in your daily routine. But if you’re not watching what you eat, it’s time to make some changes, rather than relying on supplements.