Ever wonder what all the talk of Omega-3 is about? Well, wonder no more because a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology shows that in addition to its many health benefits, EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of cardiac death.
Funded by GOED, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, the study revealed that in 14 randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) of 71,899 individuals, consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3s reduced the risk of cardiac mortality. The RCTs reviewed were longer than six months in length, and investigated cardiac death as the primary outcome, “comparing frequencies of cardiac death events between the omega-3 and control groups” (eurekalert). Studies published through December 2016 that included both dietary supplement and pharmaceutical omega-3 interventions were examined. What separates this study from others is that it is the “first published meta-analysis to include cardiac death… as a primary endpoint, and the most comprehensive review of the evidence to date” (nutritionaloutlook). The evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent cardiovascular death is especially important considering the fact that heart-related death accounts for about two-thirds (app. 405,000) of all cardiovascular disease deaths in the United States, and 42% (7.4 million) internationally, every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers in this study found greater heart risk in subjects who had high levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Such a finding concurs with the theory that omega-3 supplementation is most beneficial for heart risk reduction in people who have higher chances of developing cardiac issues. This is also pivotal because the National Center for Health Statistics approximates 25% of adults in the United States have high triglycerides greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL and 27% have LDL cholesterol levels greater than or equal to 130 mg/dL.
The scientific breakdown
Healthy fats have double bonds, making them “unsaturated.” And the more double bonds to a fatty chain, the healthier they are—thus called “polyunsaturated” fats. This is where omega-3 fatty acids come into the picture. Omega-3s are essential because the body does not make them on their own. According to Dr. Nina Radcliff --a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor, and textbook author --we need to get them from foods high in omega-3 (including seafood, vegetable oils, nuts, flaxseed products, leafy vegetables, and edamame). These essential fatty acids are vital to cell membranes, affecting the cell receptors in these membranes.
Why Omega-3 fatty acids are important
Whether it is through food or supplements, omega-3 minimizes the buildup of fatty plaques within artery walls that causes blockages and inflammation, which then leads to cardiovascular disease.
While it is most prominently valuable to the heart, these fatty acids prevent the development of type-2 diabetes in that they improve insulin sensitivity. In addition, some evidence outside of the study presented in this article points to omega-3 in turn decreasing complications associated with diabetes such as heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms.
Increasing omega-3s betters our cognitive flexibility, memory, and thinking. Reason? DHA found in the fatty membranes that surround nerve cells, acts as a protector.
With an increased intake of omega-3, we are at a decreased risk of macular degeneration—one of the world’s largest causes of eye damage and eventual blindness.
These are only a few of the advantages omega-3 has on the way our bodies function. One system affects the next, and with such a wide range of affected regions of the body, omega-3 is definitely a vital ingredient to our health.
Have no fear, omega-3 is here
You’re vegan? Don’t fret! A plant-based diet fits perfectly with getting your share of omega-3s. Algae oil supplements is a plant-based source of DHA and EPA. This is also a good option for those with a fish-related allergen.
Concerned about mercury? Don’t be. Much of the negative thought behind consuming omega-3 fatty acids comes from pregnant women who are worried about ingesting mercury and other contaminants that could affect their fetuses. However, as stated by Dr. Radcliff, “the evidence of harm from lack of omega-3 fats has been found to be far more consistent. If you are pregnant or nursing, and have concerns, you should discuss the risks versus benefits with your attending obstetrician” (pressofatlanticcity). Consuming enough DHA is extremely important for fetuses because it is essential for healthy development of the brain and the eyes.
With the FDA allowing up to 3 grams per day, and the EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) clearing up to 5 grams per day, omega-3 fatty acids can be considered safe. Price-wise, supplements range from $10-$60 a month, while fatty fish ranges from $10-$25 a month—though that depends on the type of fish. While adequate doses of EPA and DHA are typically obtained from consuming 2-3 servings of oily fish a week, most Americans do not get enough EPA or DHA from food sources. Going with the theme, don’t panic! Supplements are readily available for your consumption.