Last week, we kicked off the month of February — National Heart Health Month — with a post about how massage can support a healthy heart and help patients manage cardiovascular disease. Today, we are going to focus on omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to long-term cardiovascular health. Boosting your dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids and/or choosing an omega-3 fatty acid supplement is a great way to celebrate National Heart Health Month, whether you are looking to manage an existing heart condition or stave off future heart problems. Read on for more about how omega-3 fatty acids can help protect your heart, what distinguishes the best omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and how you can add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet this month.
How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Work to Support Heart Health
Omega-3 fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatories, so they effectively dampen the body’s response to perceived injury. When omega-3 fatty acids are absorbed into the bloodstream, they decrease chronic inflammation in the blood vessels. Inflammation can cause blood vessel damage — including scarring, weakening, and narrowing of blood vessels — all of which have negative long-term impacts on your heart health and put you at higher risk for a heart attack or stroke.
The risks associated with inflammation are even more significant in patients with atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is characterized by the buildup of cholesterol-rich plaque in the arteries, which the body perceives as a foreign substance. The immune system responds by inducing an inflammatory response that creates a barrier between the plaque and the rest of the bloodstream. However, this barrier can break down relatively easily, which can cause the plaque to rupture and release fatty particles into the blood. The mixture of fatty particles and health blood cells can form a blood clot, which prevents blood from flowing freely. A blood clot from ruptured plaque is the most common cause of a heart attack or stroke. Therefore, by limiting the inflammatory response in the blood vessels, omega-3 fatty acids can lower your risk of a catastrophic cardiovascular event.
Although scientific results are mixed, there is also evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can improve cardiovascular health in other ways, such as:
- Helping prevent heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
- Lowering blood pressure
- Decreasing triglyceride levels
- Reducing the rate of plaque buildup in the arteries
While the clinical evidence indicates that these changes are slight, they still make an important contribution to your overall heart health. When combined with other heart-healthy diet and lifestyle choices, even the small benefits start to add up!
Choosing the Right Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids are widely recognized for their health benefits, so you can find lots of options on the shelves of your local grocery store or pharmacy. However, it is important to note that not all omega-3 fatty acid supplements are equally effective. If you’re overwhelmed by your choices, here are a few things to look out for:
- An optimal ratio of EPA to DHA. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). The first two are the ones usually found in supplements, since they are the most effective for reducing inflammation. Although they are similar in chemical structure, the research shows that they play different — but equally important — roles in reducing cellular inflammation. In order to maximize the effectiveness of a supplement for reducing inflammation, it is important for formulators to choose an optimal EPA: DHA ratio — typically between 3:1 and 5:1.
- IFOS Five-Star Certification. The quality of fish oils on the market today can vary widely, so it is important to choose a supplement that meets the criteria for five-star certification, based on the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS).
- GRAS-certified enteric coating. The outside of your fish oil supplement can be just as important as the inside. You should look for a supplement that has GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) certification from the FDA and that breaks down naturally in your digestive system so that the omega-3 fatty acids are optimally absorbed.
Increasing the Amount of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that about 5 to 10 percent of your total calories should come from omega-3 fatty acids. Taking a supplement can help you increase your intake, but it’s always a good idea to try to get more from the foods you eat as well. This February, try one of these omega-3-rich meal or snack ideas:
- Sprinkle sardines on your pizza instead of meats that are high in saturated fat, like sausage and pepperoni.
- Instead of making a tuna salad sandwich, replace the tuna with salmon, which is high in both DHA and EPA.
- If you’re not a fish person, choose a chicken breast for dinner or scramble eggs for breakfast. Eggs are relatively high in DHA, and although chicken is lower in EPA and DHA than most fish, it does offer measurable amounts of both.
Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness is here to help you celebrate National Heart Health Month by making positive dietary and lifestyle decisions. We offer a high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and our chiropractors offer nutritional counseling that can help you make heart-healthy choices. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!Share