Definition of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Health

Omega 3 fatty acids are dietary substances that increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and decrease low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). Omega fatty acids also reduce the likelihood of arrhythmia and may help lower blood pressure.

The omega fatty acids that appear most beneficial are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Researchers do not know how omega fatty acids affect cardiovascular health though believe they reduce inflammation and the blood’s clotting tendencies.

These effects slow atherosclerotic plaque accumulation and infiltration into the arterial intima, the innermost layer of the arterial wall.

The most abundant dietary sources of omega fatty acids are cold-water fish such as mackerel, tuna, and salmon. Health experts recommend eating at least two servings a week of these fish, which contain high levels of EPA and DHA, or taking supplements that provide 1 to 1.5 grams of EPA and DHA.

People who have high levels of triglycerides may need to take higher doses. However, doses higher than 3 grams may cause excessive bleeding. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans and soybean foods such as tofu, and walnuts are good dietary sources of alphalinolenic acid (LNA), from which the body can metabolize omega fatty acids.

An unresolved concern remains that of mercury contamination in cold-water fish. Mercury poisoning is particularly harmful to a developing fetus and raises the risk for certain kinds of cancer in adults.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) routinely samples and reports mercury levels in different species of fish and issues advisories for those that exceed established safety levels. People who are concerned about mercury contamination can obtain omega fatty acids through dietary supplements, which appear equally effective.

See also CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE PREVENTION; DIET AND CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH; DIET AND HEALTH; NUTRITIONAL NEEDS; NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS.

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