6 Incredible Ways Omega-3 Fatty Acids Support Cardiovascular Function*
If you're on a mission to promote heart health and you haven't focused on omega-3 fatty acids yet, now is the time. These powerhouse nutrients are particularly famous for their role in cardioprotective wellness, and there's compelling evidence to back up their comprehensive benefits.*
Curious? Read on to learn how omega-3 fats help your heart, plus what to look for in an omega-3 supplement.*
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3s are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are a type of healthy fat. They include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, and anchovies, while ALA is found in plants.
The liver can metabolize ALA into EPA and DHA, but the process is highly inefficient and variable1 (at best). Thus, the most effective way to achieve sufficient omega-3 levels is to get EPA and DHA from food (especially those fatty fish we mentioned) and fish oil supplements.*
6 ways omega-3s support heart health.
Thanks to its whole-body health properties, there are many reasons people take omega-3 supplements.*
But if omega-3s had a claim to fame, cardiovascular wellness would be it, so here are some of the ways that omega-3s promote a healthy heart:*
Maintain healthy blood pressure.
According to a 2017 review from Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, omega-3 fatty acids help modulate vascular function and blood pressure, and therefore, healthy blood flow.* This can help reduce the workload of the heart and blood vessels, ultimately protecting the cardiovascular system as a whole.*
Promote a healthy lipid profile.
A 2019 science advisory from the American Heart Association indicates that omega-3s nurture cardiovascular wellness by supporting healthy levels of triglycerides, a type of fat (aka lipid) in the blood.* By helping to keep triglyceride levels in check, omega-3s help maintain overall arterial function and cardiometabolic health.*
Deliver anti-inflammatory properties.
The anti-inflammatory actions of omega-3s lend a major hand in protecting heart health and function.* Both EPA and DHA help regulate the synthesis of pro-inflammatory factors (e.g., cytokines) through a specialized class of lipids called proresolving mediators2 (that our body makes from EPA and DHA!), which translates into a healthier anti-inflammatory response and resolution.*
Modulate platelet activity.
Omega-3s also support cardiovascular function by influencing platelet activity3.* Specifically, the fatty acids act on enzymes involved in platelet production, which can help reduce overall platelet aggregation4 (i.e., when platelets adhere to one another to form blood clots).*
Regulate antioxidant balance.
In addition to their powerful anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 fatty acids also have some pretty potent antioxidant actions5.* Such properties can support a diverse range of processes in the body, including elevating overall antioxidant capacity and promoting healthy blood flow and vascular function.*
Help stabilize cell membranes.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that omega-3 fatty acids also regulate myriad factors of cell membrane structure and function6.* (Cell membranes are composed of lipids, after all.) We can thank omega-3s for supporting key aspects of membranes like fluidity, cell signaling, and the production of specialized lipid mediators—all of which contribute to the fats' cardioprotective anti-inflammatory actions in the body.*
What to look for in an omega-3 supplement.
So, you've read up on omega-3 fatty acids' vast cardiovascular mechanisms and benefits, and you're ready to up your omega-3 intake.* The easiest and most effective way to achieve sufficient omega-3 status? Taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement.
That said, not all fish oil supplements are created equal. When choosing an omega-3 supplement, there are several things to consider:
- Source. In the name of sustainability, pick a supplement that's been sourced in a sustainable and transparent fashion. And according to Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg's vice president of scientific affairs, when fish oil is sourced from different types of fish from all over the world, it's more difficult to control the quality, purity, and oxidation of the multiple fish oils. "In comparison, a streamlined and clean single-species fish oil product is able to control these factors with ease," says Ferira.
- Purity and quality. Although this is important for all supplements, it's especially crucial for fish oil. That's because it needs to be properly purified to minimize contaminants like heavy metals, dioxins, furans, and PCBs. So, choose a brand that prioritizes quality testing.
- Potency. Most adults should aim for a baseline minimum of about 500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA per day (i.e., two servings of oily fish a week). But if you want to get the most out of your supplement for cardioprotective wellness, look for a more potent product with about 1,000 milligrams or more. According to a 2017 review7 from the American Heart Association, there are profound health benefits associated with higher levels of daily omega-3 intake.*
- Form. "Form is everything when it comes to bioavailability in your body," says Ferira. Form, after all, determines how your body can absorb—and therefore, utilize—the omega-3s in your supplement. In this case, look for the triglyceride form8 of EPA and DHA for optimal absorption.*
- Taste. If you're concerned about fish burps, choose an omega-3 supplement with natural botanicals like organic lemon oil. Such ingredients can help reduce the fishy aftertaste, paving the way for a more pleasant experience.
The bottom line.
Omega-3 fatty acids offer 360-degree support for healthy lipids, blood pressure, and platelet activity.* The fats also provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, making them crucial nutrients for heart health and function.*
Fatty fish, such as salmon and herring, are excellent sources of omega-3 fats. But if you're looking for a more practical, convenient way to increase your omega-3 levels, consider adding a daily supplement like mbg's omega-3 potency+ to your routine.*
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle journalist based in Beacon, New York. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition from Texas Woman's University and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from SUNY Oneonta. Kirsten specializes in nutrition, fitness, food, and DIY; her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including eHow, SparkPeople, and international editions of Cosmopolitan. She also creates recipes for food product packaging.