Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and fish oil supplements, have a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart.
"Doctors have long believed that the unsaturated fats in fish, called omega-3 fatty acids, are the nutrients that reduce the risk of dying of heart disease," The Mayo Clinic said
, adding that the American Heart Association recommends that people eat 3.5-ounce servings of fish that have omega-3s at least twice a week. "However, more recent research suggests that other nutrients in fish or a combination of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients in fish may actually be responsible for the health benefits from fish."
Fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, and lake trout have larger amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than other fish, although most seafood contains a little bit.
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Harvard School of Public Health explained that omega-3 fatty acids
are "essential fats," which means the body doesn't make them and you have to get them from food.
"Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions," the HSPH site said. The three types of omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), mainly found in fish, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat. ALA is usually used for energy and doesn't convert to EPA or DHA.
According to Harvard, most research into omega-3 fats has been done in regard to its effect on heart health. There is evidence that it:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers heart rate
- Improves blood vessel functioning
- Lowers triglycerides
- May help with inflammation that plays a role in hardening of the arteries
- Maintains the rhythm of the heart, keeping it at a steady beat to avoid dangerous arrhythmias
Significant research found that omega-3 fatty acids can also have a protective role after someone has had a heart attack, WebMD reported
. Studies have found that people who take a prescription dose after they've had a heart attack were discovered to have reduced inflammation and "were 39 percent less likely to show deterioration of heart function," compared to those who did not take the omega-3, the website said.
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"There was also less thickening or scarring of the areas of the heart that were not directly damaged during the heart attack," WebMD said. "This thickening, also known as fibrosis, often develops when the surviving heart muscle works harder to compensate for the damaged tissue, according to the researchers. "Patients with a 5 percent rise in the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood seemed most likely to benefit from the supplements."
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