Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a class of fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Unlike saturated fats that are commonly found in non-skim dairy products and beef, PUFAs have been linked to many health benefits, such as protecting your heart and your joints.
Health Benefits of Omega-3s
There is some evidence that suggests that omega-3s may:
Decrease the risk of heart disease—In one study, people who replaced saturated fats with PUFAs had fewer coronary events (eg, heart attacks) and fewer deaths due to heart disease. Other studies have suggested this favorable effect on heart disease may be due to the ability of omega-3s to:
Decrease the risk of
arrhythmia, an abnormality in the rhythm of the heart that can sometimes be life-threatening—Note that the evidence here is contradictory, and there is even some suggestion that omega-3s could increase the risk of harmful arrhythmias in some people. Talk to your doctor before using supplements for this purpose.
Reduce the blood's tendency to clot—Although blood clotting is a life-saving process in response to a cut or similar trauma, blood clots that occur inside intact blood vessels can contribute to the clogging that occurs with
. By decreasing the tendency to clot, omega-3s make blood thinner and able to flow more easily, which may decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Improve symptoms of
and other mental health disorders in some individuals, though the evidence is quite limited.
While many of these benefits are probably real, more research is needed to confirm some of the health effects associated with omega-3s. Omega-3s almost certainly have significant benefits on heart health. Sources of omega-3s—fish, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables—should be an important part of everyone's diet.
Where You Can Find Omega-3s
Fatty fish is the main source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a lot of fish also takes the place of foods high in saturated fats. A good target for omega-3s is 5 grams daily. Remember, though, that some fish contain significant amounts of mercury and may be harmful if eaten in excess.
Canned light tuna, crab, pollock, flounder, oysters, and shrimp are relatively low in mercury and provide quite good levels of omega-3s in a 6-7 ounce serving. Omega-3s are also found in: soybean and canola oils, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables.
For more information about mercury levels in fish, visit the US Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety website.
5/11/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Jakobsen MU, O'Reilly EJ, Heitmann BL, et al. Major types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of 11 cohort studies.
Am J Clin Nutr.
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IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
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