Research suggests omega-3 fatty acids can help survivors of heart attack
In the past several years, the term “omega-3 fatty acids” has
become well-known among consumers looking to include more healthy oils
in their diets. Doctors and medical journals have touted the omega-3 fatty
acids found in fish as an important way to maintain heart health. In parts
of the world where fish is consumed regularly, rates of heart disease
are lower and fewer heart attacks per capita have been recorded.
Research supports the heart-healing benefit of fish oil, suggesting that
omega-3 fatty acids may lessen or even prevent further tissue damage after
a heart attack occurs. In one study, published in the Aug. 2, 2016 issue of
Circulation, patients who experienced a heart attack were given high doses of omega-3
fatty acids to measure their hearts’ function over time. After six
months, these patients were shown to have 6 percent less decline in heart
function than the control group, and they showed greater reduction in
heart muscle scarring caused by the initial attack. The patients taking
fish oil even showed better overall results than the group which was simultaneously
taking standard heart disease treatment drugs, such as cholesterol-lowering
statins and blood pressure medications.
This is all encouraging news for doctors and heart attack patients; in
the future we may even see omega-3s administered as part of standard emergency
heart attack care. But for the rest of us, there are even more good reasons
to include more omega-3s in our diets.
What are some of the other benefits of omega-3 fatty acids?
If you have been treated for high cholesterol, you have probably heard
of “good fats” versus “bad fats.” “The body
needs the good fats to function, but it cannot make them on its own,” says
Amy Alias, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, “so we must get them from food or supplements. And the best fats
you can consume for heart health are the omega-3 fatty acids.” The
two most important omega-3s are known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid); these are primarily found in certain fish.
The third omega-3 you need is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), found in plants,
nuts and seeds.
Besides being important for the health of your heart and cardiovascular
system, omega-3s can help with a range of other conditions. For example,
the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s can reduce the stiffness
and joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-inflammatory response
is thought to help asthma as well. And since omega-3s are highly concentrated
in the brain, they appear to boost cognitive function, and can even help
relieve symptoms of depression. Babies who do not get enough omega-3s
during pregnancy are at risk for certain developmental problems. Finally,
the brain-boosting effects of omega-3s are thought to help patients with
ADHD, Alzheimer's disease and dementia; but further research is needed
in these areas.
What are some dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids?
To reap the most benefits from omega-3 fatty acids, you should seek to
get them from the foods you eat rather than by taking supplements. Eating
fish high in omega-3 fatty acids two to three times a week is a good regimen;
but avoid fish species that may have higher levels of mercury, PCBs or
other dangerous compounds.
Fish to eat: Wild salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, anchovies, lake trout and herring.
Fish to avoid: Mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, shark and most farm-raised fish.
- For those who don’t eat fish, algae oil contains DHA and provides
a good alternative. And non-fish sources of omega-3s should not be overlooked.
Whether you are vegan or not, you’ll want to consume some of these
good fats, too.
Plant sources of ALA: Walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola
and soybean oil.
- Flax and chia seeds are among the richest sources of ALA, and can be prepared
in a variety of ways.
“Although eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a good idea,
oil and nuts are high in calories, so eat them in moderation,” says
Dr. Alias. “If you chose to take supplements instead of consuming
omega-3s in food, be sure to consult your doctor beforehand. Even supplements
that are advertised as natural and good for you can have potentially serious
side effects if used improperly.”
Heart disease is one of the top health problems we face—reduce your
risk by eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Watch
this video to learn more about dietary sources of omega-3s.
Learn more about
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