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Nov 03, 2011

Cardiovascular Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fatty acids found in fish may reduce risk of mortality.

Over the years, many studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids provide a variety of health benefits, such as improving cardiovascular health and even preventing cancer. But with many and sometimes contradicting findings reported in the media, it can be difficult to determine which fatty acids we should be consuming, what they do for the body and how much we need to promote our health.

Fortunately, experts reviewed all available evidence on cardiovascular health and omega-3 fatty acid consumption, and the results were recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. After reviewing all reliable studies on the matter, researchers helped clarify which cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are well-established, which are less clear, and exactly how many servings of fatty acids we must consume to achieve desired health benefits.

So what did the experts report? First, they reviewed a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid called long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as n-3 PUFAs. These types of fatty acids are primarily found in seafood — particularly fatty fish — and have been shown to have a protective effect on cardiovascular health. Based on the large body of evidence around n-3 PUFAs, experts reported that these fatty acids help reduce risk for heart disease mortality and sudden cardiac death, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Consumption of n-3 PUFAs also helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation and resting heart rate, while improving vascular function. And although many studies have demonstrated that n-3 PUFAs may help protect against arrhythmias, heart attack, stroke and heart failure, evidence of these effects are less well-established and require additional research.

Based on this report, experts have helped clarify which cardiovascular benefits associated with n-3 PUFAs are proven, and which require further examination. They also helped develop recommendations that the general population should consume at least 250mg/day of n-3 PUFAs or at least 2 servings each week of oily fish in order to experience cardiovascular benefits. Most importantly, this review of omega-3 fatty acids will help eliminate confusion around fatty acids and empower individuals to protect their heart health.

Read this Article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • In what foods are n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found?
  • N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found on most oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel, and in fish oils. These can be found in their natural forms, as well as in daily supplements.
  • Does higher omega-3 fatty acid consumption increase cardiovascular benefits?

  • Based on guidelines set forth in this review, individuals should consume at least 250mg/day of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids or at least 2 servings/week of oily fish. However, it has not yet been proven that consuming omega-3 fatty acids beyond this minimum would provide more cardiovascular benefits.

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