Heart-to-Heart: The Truth About Omega-3 Supplements

Omega-3 (or fish oil) supplements are popular because of their reputation for protecting your heart, but lately there’s been some mixed information muddying the waters. Here’s what you need to know about taking omega-3 supplements to reap the full range of their heart-healthy benefits.

Heart Health Benefits Backed by Research

EPA and DHA are long-chain omega-3s found in fatty fish and are the primary omega-3s you need to support heart health. Experts believe, based on numerous gold-standard research studies, that the omega-3s EPA and DHA may reduce risk of cardiac death, maintain healthy blood pressure and keep triglycerides in check, all of which are associated with heart disease:

Reducing Cardiovascular Death Risk: Every meta-analysis of the human clinical trials published in the last 10 years consistently finds a significant benefit to omega-3 consumption for cardiac (or coronary) death risk. Data from these studies show fish oil consumption reduces cardiac death risk between approximately 10 and 30 percent.

Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure: The most recent meta-analysis of EPA/DHA’s impact on blood pressure found that omega-3s can reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by approximately the same amount as lifestyle interventions, such as quitting smoking or exercising, in people who are not being treated with pharmaceutical drugs for high blood pressure.

Maintaining Healthy Triglyceride Levels: A triglyceride is a chemical compound made up of three types of fatty acids, and having high concentrations in the blood is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke. To date, 22 meta-analyses of clinical trials have looked at the triglyceride-lowering effects of EPA and DHA, and they’ve all concluded that they cut your triglyceride levels. In fact, while omega-3s have proven to lower triglycerides among those with normal blood lipid levels, they’ve also shown to have an even greater impact on those with elevated levels of triglyceride in their blood.

How Much Do I Need?

Although there is no established Adequate Intake (AI) or Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) in the United States, most health professionals recommend the average person consume between 250-500 mg/day of omega-3s by eating at least two servings/week of fatty fish, taking a daily omega-3 supplement or enhancing your diet with omega-3-fortified foods. Take this quiz to find out if you’re getting enough.

What Are the Best Sources?

Unfortunately, more than 75 percent of American diets are deficient in these important omega-3s. Luckily, there’s an easy way to remedy this! Here are three simple ways to get your recommended amount of omega-3s EPA and DHA:

  • Consume fatty fish varieties that contain high levels of omega-3s, including salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring. There are tons of delicious, heart-healthy recipes that call for these fish varieties, including these favorites.
  • Add an omega-3 supplement to your daily routine (be sure to look for a fish oil, algal oil or krill oil supplement that lists the amount of EPA and DHA per serving).
  • Eat and drink omega-3-fortified foods and beverages, including milk, yogurt, margarines, bread and even chocolate.