Heart Health

Omega-3s and Your Heart:
Why Are They Essential for Heart Health?

Omega-3s are Important For Your Heart Health

• EPA and DHA omega-3s are valuable and essential nutrients for your heart.
• The amount of EPA and DHA in your body influences your heart health.
• EPA and DHA help support healthy blood pressure levels.

Maintaining heart health is a major concern for men and women, especially in the United States [1]. Research shows that EPA and DHA omega-3 provide many benefits for the heart, including support for healthy circulation and blood pressure levels. EPA and DHA omega-3 can also increase longevity [2].

EPA & DHA Omega-3s Are Valuable & Essential Nutrients For Your Heart

The beneficial effects of EPA and DHA omega-3s on heart health were discovered more than 40 years ago when researchers found that Eskimos whose diets contained very high amounts of fat had much better heart health than those who consumed lower fat diets [3].  The Eskimos were consuming high amounts (e.g. 2,000 mg or more) of EPA and DHA omega-3. Since that time, thousands of studies have investigated the role of omega-3s and heart health. Results show that it’s the type of fat in the diet that makes the difference: trans fats and high intake of saturated fat are detrimental for the heart while EPA and DHA omega-3 fats are beneficial.

For heart health, about 500 mg EPA and DHA is the minimum amount recommended to consume on a daily basis [4][5]. Many scientists consider 1,000 mg EPA and DHA as their daily minimum. The American Heart Association has also established recommendations for the general population and specific individuals [6][7] [See tables]. Because of advances in food manufacturing, our consumption of other fats (e.g. meat, vegetable oils, dairy foods) has increased, but our intake of EPA and DHA remains low. On average, Americans consume less than 100 mg of EPA and DHA per day [8], which isn’t enough to support good heart health. Consuming at least 250 mg of EPA and DHA per day can significantly improve heart health and reduce complications related to the heart [2][9].

American Heart Association Recommendations [ 6 ] [ 7 ] [ 10 ]
For all Americans Eat fish, preferably fatty fish, at least twice a week*
To support heart health 1,000** mg per day
For people who have very high triglyceride levels 2,000 – 4,000 mg per day

*Both adults and children are advised to eat fatty fish two or more time a week or get the equivalent amount, about 250-500 mg, of omega-3 from supplements.
**Note: 1000 mg = 1 gram

The Amount of EPA & DHA in Your Body Influences Your Heart Health

Minimum levels are just that, minimum levels. The best way to understand your overall heart health is to know your blood level of EPA and DHA. Research shows that blood levels above 8% of EPA and DHA are the most beneficial for your heart. Most Americans have about 4% EPA and DHA in their blood [11][12]. New research shows that it takes longer for EPA and DHA levels to rise in people who carry extra body weight [13]. [At-home test kits are available (e.g. OmegaBloodCount™) or talk with your healthcare provider].

EPA & DHA Help Support Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
EPA and DHA have been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels in adults of all ages [14-17].

Eat For Your Heart
The healthy fats EPA and DHA omega-3, as found in fish and fish oil supplements, have a beneficial effect on our heart health. Because our bodies cannot produce EPA and DHA omega-3, we need to consume them in our diet or from supplements.

Aim to consume between 500-1000 mg of EPA and DHA per day; your heart will thank you for it. 

By Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN ©  All rights reserved

About the author: Gretchen Vannice is a registered dietician nutritionist and independent consultant who specialises in omega-3 fatty acids and natural foods. She is a strategist, trainer, speaker, and author. Gretchen is lead author of the 2014 Position Paper on Healthy Dietary Fats for Adults, written for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and author of Live Long and Thrive with Omega-3s. A consumer’s guide to fish, fish oil, nuts, and seeds. She can be reached at www.omega3handbook.com.

Disclaimer:  Written by an independent nutritional expert, this information is provided for educational purposes only.

It is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider for medical advice.

References

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm
[2] Mozaffarian D. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(6):1991S-1996S.
[3] Dyerberg J, Bang HO, Hjorne N. Am J Clin Nutr 1975;28(9):958-966.
[4] Vannice G, Rasmussen H. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(1):136-153.
[5] International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids. 2004.
[6] Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ, AHA Nutrition Committee. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2003;23(2):151-152.
[7] Mosca L, Benjamin EJ, et al. Circulation 2011;123(11):1243-1262.
[8] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. NHANES 2009-2010.
[9] Harris WS, Mozaffarian D, Lefevre M, et al. J Nutr 2009;139(4):804S-819S.
[10] Uauy R, Dangour A. Ann Nutr Metabolism 2009;55:76-96.
[11] Harris WS. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(6):1997S-2002S.
[12] Harris WS. Curr Cardiol Rep 2010;12:503-508.
[13] Flock MR, Skulas-Ray AC, et al. J Am Heart Assoc. 2013;2(6):e000513.
[14] Cabo J, Alonso R, Mata P. Br J Nutr 2012;107:Suppl 2:S195-200.
[15] Geleijnse JM, Giltay EJ, Grobbee DE, et al. J Hypertens 2002;20(8):1493-1499.
[16] Ginty AT, Conklin SM.. Biol Psychol 2012;89(1):269-272.
[17] Skulas-Ray AC, Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, West SG. Ann Behav Med 2012; 44(3):301-308.