Omega-3 fatty acids and heart health

Words like “fatty” and “acid” don’t exactly conjure images of good health.

But the reality is that a type of unsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acid can lower your risk for heart disease.

What are Omega-3 fatty acids?

There are three different types of omega-3s that are good for heart health.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant-based foods, such as walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are mostly found in fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, trout and white tuna.

How are omega-3 fatty acids good for my heart?

Heart disease is caused by a buildup of plaque and inflammation in your arteries. Omega-3s help with lowering inflammation and slowing that plaque buildup.

These fats may also help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat.

Omega-3s also can improve your cholesterol profile by lowering your triglyceride levels and increasing your good cholesterol levels, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Should I take an omega-3 supplement?

It is possible to get the omega-3s you need from food. The American Heart Association states that eating at least two servings (3.5 ounces each) of fish rich in omega-3s per week can lower your risk for heart disease.

Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil provide the most omega-3s, so adding flaxseed to smoothies, cereal or salads can help put more plant-based omega-3s in your diet.

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Eating an excess amount of omega-3s can cause an upset stomach, and it may slightly increase the risk of bleeding if you take certain medications.

Therefore, taking a supplement is not ideal for everyone. Talk to your health care provider before trying one. If you do decide to take an omega-3 supplement, the American Heart Association suggests taking 2-4 grams per day of an omega-3 supplement containing both EPA and DHA to help lower triglycerides.