Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, plant oils and nuts/seeds like flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, are essential for cardiovascular health. They help to lower triglycerides, improve blood cholesterol levels and control high blood pressure.
Studies show that they may also ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, reduce ADHD in children and improve depression.
1. Reduces Inflammation
Research continues to uncover new insights about how omega 3 fats promote optimal health. For instance, they reduce system-wide inflammation, which is linked to the progression of diseases like cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The human body cannot make EPA and DHA omega-3 fats, so they must be consumed in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from foods. ALA is found in green, leafy vegetables; flaxseeds; chia seeds; and canola, walnut and soybean oils.
ALA can be converted in the body to the long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, but this process is inefficient, and less than 10 percent of ALA is converted. It’s also not absorbed as well from the diet, so many experts recommend supplementing with omega-3 fats to meet your dietary needs. Several studies have shown that consuming omega-3 fats can help lower high triglyceride levels, which are associated with heart disease. This is partly because omega-3 fats can inhibit the accumulation of triglycerides in the blood.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
A meta-analysis of 71 clinical trials from around the world found that participants who consumed a moderate amount of omega 3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA) lowered their systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The studies included nearly 5,000 adults ranging in age from 22 to 86 years, who consumed omega 3 fats either through food or through prescription supplements for an average of 10 weeks.
This finding is important because it suggests that consuming omega 3 fatty acids from fatty fish such as salmon, anchovy and sardines, or supplemental DHA and EPA may help lower blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk for heart disease and other health problems. A 2 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure can reduce the risk of coronary mortality by 4 percent and stroke mortality by 6 percent, researchers note.
Aside from lowering blood pressure, the omega 3 fatty acids support cognitive function, reduce inflammation, boost eye health, assist with fetal brain development and vision, promote skin health, aid in weight loss and more. These health-boosting fats also support the immune system, protect against cancer and improve mood.
3. Prevents Heart Disease
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for keeping the heart, lungs and blood vessels healthy. Two of them, EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid), are found mainly in fish and in some plant foods. In randomized clinical trials, higher intakes of omega-3 from seafood or dietary supplements have been associated with a decrease in fatal and non-fatal coronary events and in cardiovascular disease death.
Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and improve other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure and low HDL (good) cholesterol. They also reduce the clotting ability of platelets, which can prevent or delay blood clots that lead to stroke and other brain problems.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that includes abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. In one study, people with this condition who took a daily supplement of omega-3 lowered their triglycerides by 25% and experienced a decrease in the rate of heart failure hospitalizations and deaths.
4. Prevents Cancer
Omega-3 fatty acids are components of the phospholipids that form cell membranes. They are converted by the body to EPA and DHA, which have roles in the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune and endocrine systems. Omega-3 fatty acids also provide energy and help to produce eicosanoids, which are hormone-like substances that have many biological effects.
People with higher intakes of dietary fish and omega-3 fatty acid-rich oils have lower rates of chronic disease and death in several observational studies. They may also have a lower risk of breast cancer.
The fats are found in coldwater fish (salmon, trout, tuna and sardines), walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds. They can be incorporated into the diet by eating 3-ounce servings of these foods twice a week or taking a supplemental fish oil capsule daily. Several small randomized controlled trials have shown that the supplements significantly reduce serum triglyceride levels. They also improve symptoms of the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors for heart disease including abdominal obesity, high blood sugar and triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol.