New Research on Omega-3s and Heart Health

New research about omega-3 fatty acids has been making major headlines and questions its ability to protect the heart and the brain. What does this mean for you and your health?

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The Journal of the American Medical Association published a systematic review of taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements. The researchers concluded that taking omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was not associated with a lower risk of death from cardiac death, heart attacks or stroke. However, the authors of the study did support evidence that omega-3s have other health benefits.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the brain-boosting, cholesterol-clearing good fats (monounsaturated). Dr. Oz lists them as 1 of the 5 critical supplements every woman should take, 1 of 5 daily nutrition needs, and as one of the most important steps expecting mothers can take to promote their baby's healthy development.

There are three basic forms of omega-3:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in walnuts and vegetable oils, like flaxseed, soybean and olive, which the body eventually, but in small quantities, converts to DHA.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found primarily in fish oil, this is the ultimate form of fatty acid in humans. Most people get far too little of this all-important fatty acid, especially since the conversion of ALA to DHA is slow and minimally yielding.
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is also found in fish oil, so it's absorbed if you're taking a daily dose of DHA omega-3.

The authors reviewed 20 studies that followed 68,680 people. The experimental groups either got their omega-3s through eating more fish or through an omega-3 supplement, some of which included EPA and/or DHA. After an average of two years, there was no significant change in the number of cases of cardiac death, heart attacks, or stroke.

Despite these findings, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supports taking omega-3 fatty acids to reduce unhealthy triglyceride levels. The authors of the study also tout omega-3’s protective effects against heart arrhythmias and high blood pressure.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to lubricate joints, fight wrinkles, protect vision, help acne, improve mood, and enhance fertility in both males and females; and because it helps affect brain development, many experts recommend expectant mothers get omega-3 fatty acids in their diet.

Read our fact sheet on omega-3 fatty acids to find out more and to learn how to choose the best omega-3 supplement for you.