AHA News Omega-3 Fatty Acids Sufficiency

AHA News Omega-3 Fatty Acids Sufficiency

The Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Heart and Brain Health

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are often overlooked in the American diet, despite their incredible benefits for heart and brain health. These essential nutrients are linked to a strengthened immune system and reduced inflammation, as well as lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels. By incorporating omega-3s into our diets, we can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. However, most people in the United States fail to consume enough of these vital fatty acids.

According to Ann Skulas-Ray, an assistant professor in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness at the University of Arizona, omega-3 intake in the US is “abysmally low.” This deficiency is concerning because omega-3 fatty acids come in three main types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

While the human body can convert small amounts of ALA into EPA and DHA, the primary way to increase omega-3 levels is through the consumption of foods and supplements rich in these nutrients. Surprisingly, survey data suggests that most American adults consume only about 0.1 gram of EPA and DHA per day, far below the recommended amounts.

Although U.S. health agencies do not provide specific guidelines for EPA and DHA daily intake, there are recommendations for ALA consumption based on age and gender. The National Academy of Medicine suggests men should consume 1.6 grams of ALA daily, while women should aim for 1.1 grams per day. Pregnant or breastfeeding individuals require even higher amounts.

To obtain ALA, one can turn to walnuts and plant oils like flaxseed, soybean, and canola. EPA and DHA are abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, lake trout, and albacore tuna. The American Heart Association suggests consuming two servings of fish, particularly fatty fish, per week to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Two servings equal approximately 6 ounces when cooked.

Although it is advisable to obtain nutrients from food sources, dietary supplements like fish oil can be an alternative for those who do not consume fish. However, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement. Furthermore, it is worth noting that while omega-3 fish oil supplements may lower the risk of dying after heart failure or a recent heart attack, they do not prevent heart disease.

In 2019, the American Heart Association issued a science advisory stating that 4 grams per day of prescription fish oil supplements are a safe and effective way to lower triglycerides, the most common type of fat in the body, in individuals with elevated levels. It is essential to obtain regulated supplements from reliable sources and avoid unregulated products.

A recent analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that consuming 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily, either through food or supplements, may be the ideal dose to help lower blood pressure. For reference, approximately 4 to 5 ounces of Atlantic salmon provide 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements typically offer around 0.3 gram per pill but can vary in dosage.

A study published in June in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that taking more than 2 grams of combined DHA and EPA per day in supplement form may lower triglycerides and non-HDL cholesterol, but not LDL cholesterol. Non-HDL cholesterol refers to an individual’s total cholesterol minus their HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps the body eliminate harmful LDL.

Dr. Xinzhi Li, a pharmacy professor at Macau University of Science and Technology in China, suggests that individuals with high levels of LDL cholesterol should explore alternative medications like statins to reduce LDL cholesterol levels.

The new findings demonstrate that omega-3 supplements may be particularly beneficial for people who are overweight or obese. Since most adults in the US fail to meet the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, even small amounts of supplementation can have a positive impact on overall health, including immune function, wellness, and aging.

It is important to remember that the views expressed in this article do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. However, copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved.

Author: Laura Williamson, American Heart Association News

QUESTION: According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.”