Vegetarians & Meat Eaters Alike Can Benefit From Heart-Healthy Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are, no doubt, a superstar in the health world. And for good reason—by supporting the endocannabinoid system, they help manage stress, the high fat content supports brain health1, and researchers have long considered them heart-healthy foods. A recent review, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, says omega-3 fatty acids can both protect against cardiovascular disease risks and reduce the rates of death in people with preexisting heart disease. While these healthy fats are commonly found in fish, there are plenty of ways for vegetarians to get adequate levels of the nutrient.
The research reviewed 40 clinical trials related to the heart-health benefits of two types of omega-3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They found a combination of the two reduced fatal myocardial infarction by 35%, myocardial infarction without death by 13%, congenital heart disease (CHD) by 10%, and CHD mortality by 9%.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are commonly found in seafood, particularly fatty fish. When it comes to choosing fish, functional medicine doctor and mbg Collective member Mark Hyman, M.D., recommends sticking to SMASH (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, and sardines), which keep mercury levels to a minimum. But what about vegetarians or plant-based eaters?
While fish are a great source of EPA and DHA omega-3s, there are plenty of plant-based sources of the nutrient. Flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, soybeans, and sea veggies, to name a few.
"The study supports the notion that EPA and DHA intake contributes to cardioprotection, and that whatever patients are getting through the diet, they likely need more," study author Carl Lavie, M.D., says. In other words, while diet is critical, supplementation can also help.
Omega-3 supplement and dosage.
"People should consider the benefits of omega-3 supplements, at doses of 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day—far higher than what is typical, even among people who regularly eat fish," Lavie says.
According to the research, the higher the EPA and DHA dosage, the greater the protective benefits. Cardiovascular disease events lowered by 5.8%, and the risk of heart attacks decreased by 9%. If you are unsure how much omega-3s to take, consider consulting with a primary care physician, or a nutritionist who can inform you of how much you're getting through the diet.
"Given the safety and diminished potential for interaction with other medications, the positive results of this study strongly suggest omega-3 supplements are a relatively low-cost, high-impact way to improve heart health with few associated risks," says Lavie, adding they "should be considered as part of a standard preventive treatment for most patients with cardiovascular diseases and those recovering from myocardial infarction."
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.