We often talk about cardiovascular problems in the U.S. and that’s understandable given the death statistics related to heart disease in recent years. According to the CDC, cardiovascular problems are the #1 cause of death in the U.S. accounting for 20-25% of the deaths in the country.
Yet, for something we talk about all the time, cardiovascular problems are still understated given their magnitude. One of the key things people often forget is that heart problems don’t just lead to 20-25% of the deaths – they also play a role in other diseases and conditions.
Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and diabetes, for example, are some of the other “Top 10” causes of death but they are also significantly affected by cardiovascular problems.
Even Covid-19 has been shown to be significantly deadlier for people with heart conditions or even just with a predisposition for developing such problems. Given that nearly half (48.5%) of adult Americans, around 121.5 million people, have heart conditions this is definitely something that needs to be talked about even more.
Fortunately, there is some good news.
A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids are even more effective at preventing heart disease than previously thought.
EPA + DHA
The study is an in-depth analysis of 40 clinical trials that looked into the effectiveness of Omega-3 fatty acids. According to the result, the increased intake of Omega-3 fatty acids in combination with a healthier diet and regular exercise lead to vastly improved cardiovascular protection.
The study and the trials looked at the two most common types of Omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
According to the results, a regular intake of 1,000 to 2,000 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids per day can reduce the risks of the following heart-related conditions:
- Fatal myocardial infarction by 35%
- Myocardial infarction by 13%
- Coronary heart disease events by 10%
- Mortality due to coronary heart disease by 9%
The Mayo Clinic study and related trials are not the only ones pointing to the effectiveness of Omega-3 either. Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health also showed nearly identical results.
All studies agree that Omega-3 is best taken through food and not supplements. The latter can also be effective enough if adequate food sources are not available or convenient. If possible, the following foods are the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:
- Fish and seafood. The best choices would be salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herrings, and other seafood. For farmed salmon, 150 grams (5 ounces) of farmed salmon meat contains 1.8 grams (1,800 mg or a good daily dose) of EPA and DHA.
- Nuts and seeds. The easiest and best options here are cashews, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds. It is worth noting that these are sources are plant-based (ALA) Omega-3 and not EPA or DHA. On average, 30 grams (1 ounce) of walnuts provide ~2.5 grams (2,500 mg) of ALA Omega-3.
- Plant oils. Sunflower oil and flaxseed oil are the best examples here. They are on-par with fish oil for Omega-3 contents per gram but they contain ALA Omega-3 rather than DHA or EPA.
- Fortified foods. These include anything from milk, eggs, yogurt, juices, and soy milk to even infant formula. According to the USDA standard reference database, 244 grams (eight fluid ounces) of 3.25% fat milk contain 0.183 grams (183 mg) of (ALA) Omega-3 which is ~10% of an adult’s recommended daily intake.
When talking about these different sources and the amounts of Omega-3 they provide, it should be pointed out that a balanced diet includes all three of the main Omega-3 sources – ALA, EPA, and DHA. So, the fact that 250 grams of fat milk contain 10% of your daily ALA Omega-3 doesn’t mean you should drink 2,500 grams of milk daily. Rather, look for a mix of all of the above.
That’s also why most good Omega-3 supplements on the market also contain a mix of different Omega-3 fatty acids. Given that fish, seafood, nuts, and seeds are the best and healthiest options for Omega-3, it’s common for people to not be able to get enough Omega-3 from food. In those cases, food supplements can be a good short-term replacement but getting more fish and nuts in your diet is strongly recommended for the long-term.
Why is it so important that we take Omega-3 fatty acids?
Regular Omega-3 intake is very important because our bodies don’t naturally produce any type of Omega-3. So, taking Omega-3 from our diet is much more than just complementing some momentary deficiency in our systems – we need Omega-3 to stay healthy, regardless of what our current condition is.
We’ve evolved eating Omega-3 regularly as nuts and seeds have been a natural part of our diets for hundreds of thousands of years. Fish and seafood have also been a part of our diet for a long time, yet many people today skip both Omega-3 sources.
What other benefits does Omega-3 offer in addition to improved heart health?
Cardiovascular health is more than enough reason to look into your Omega-3 intake as we covered above but there other reasons for improving your diet with Omega-3s:
- Adequate Omega-3 intake during pregnancies is crucial for the cognitive development and even birth weight of the baby.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have even been shown to help with breast cancer and colorectal cancer prevention. Given that all cancers taken together are the second biggest cause of death in the U.S. after cardiovascular problems, this is more than significant.
- Omega-3 also improves our cognitive functions and helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
- Inflammation reduction is another benefit of Omega-3 which is crucial for lots of immune-related conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Omega-3 even helps to maintain our eyes’ health and prevents eye problems like macular degeneration and others.