Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Their Heart Health Benefits

Fresh sardines against a white background with copy space.
Fish such as sardines help reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer. Copyright: rixie / 123RF Stock Photo


Globally, omega-3 fish oil supplements have become one of the top retail supplement products consumed by those who have heart and cardiovascular issues and by those of us who are healthy and want to keep it that way.

Omega-3 fish oil contains two key omega-3 fatty acids needed for good health,  docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that are important in preventing and managing heart disease.

Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the Western world although cancer is not far behind. High blood pressure (hypertension) and high blood cholesterol are two of the main risk factors and are commonly monitored as markers of heart health for the future. Studying reports from the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is thought that one in six adults from the USA has high cholesterol and one in three has high blood pressure.

What’s to be done ? A healthy diet is paramount. One approach is to supplement with omega 3-fatty acids which are said to reduce inflammation and keep the arterial wall elastic. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may have beneficial effects in a wide range of normal developmental processes and disease states. This includes not only cardiovascular disease,  but infant brain & retinal development, autoimmune disorders, cancer (breast, colon, prostate) arthritis, and potentially bone health.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that everyone eats fish particularly fatty, cold water fish at least twice a week. Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, lake trout, and tuna are especially good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Some plants can offer omega-3 fatty acids too.

While foods are your best bet for getting omega-3s in your diet, fish oil supplements are also available for those who do not like fish. The heart-healthy benefits of regular doses of fish oil supplements are unclear, so consult with your doctor to see if they’re right for you. If you have heart disease or high triglyceride levels, you may need even more omega-3 fatty acids. Ask your doctor if you should take higher doses of fish oil supplements to get the omega-3s you need.

Summary: Heart Health Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Current findings in heart health terms show omega-3 fatty acids may help to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce triglycerides
  • Slow the development of plaque in the arteries
  • Reduce the chance of abnormal heart rhythm
  • Reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke
  • Lessen the chance of sudden cardiac death in people with heart disease

Other Fatty Acids To Consider

The polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), include not only omega-3 but also omega-6 fatty acids. All these essential dietary fatty acids are needed for all normal cellular function at all stages from conception to adulthood (Connor, 2000). The principal omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA) is industrially derived from vegetable oils (Kruger and Horrobin, 1997).

Clinical Studies  

Pase et al., (2011) showed after a meta-analysis of recent data that there was a reduction in arterial stiffness because of ingestion of omega-3-fatty acids. A variety of databases and various clinical trials to September 2010 cited randomised and controlled adult human clinical trials. These investigated the long chain fatty acids in particular. A meta-analysis of 17 longitudinal studies showed that aortic stiffness in particular was linked both brain and kidney damage. Reducing arterial stiffness might reduce the related risks which are associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD). Omega-3 fatty acids were especially effective in improving pulse wave velocity (PWV) and arterial compliance according to four trials-hence the link to reducing arterial stiffness. Six other trials demonstrated respective outcome measures which used arterial compliance, measured as capacitive compliance or systemic arterial compliance.

There was compelling evidence that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids would reduce arterial stiffness. The study also concluded that n-3 PUFAs were effective independently of improving and arterial compliance with more slender effects.


Connor, W. (2000) Importance of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 71: 171S–175S

Kruger, M. and Horrobin, D. (1997) Calcium metabolism, osteoporosis and essential fatty acids: a review. Prog Lipid Res. 36 pp. 131–151

Pase M, et al. (2011) Review Article. Do long-chain n-3 fatty acids reduce arterial stiffness? A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Brit. J. Nutr., Epub July 6, 2011.


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