Let’s discuss one of the most important heart healthy nutrients in your dietary arsenal: the long chain, omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish. In addition to EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids also include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is present in some vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Although ALA is the natural precursor to the longer-chain EPA and DHA, this conversion is slow and inefficient in humans. For this reason, most experts recommend increasing dietary intake of EPA and DHA from “fatty” fish such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon, or from high-quality dietary supplements such as IsaOmega™.
We know there are heart-health benefits from a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but few know the story behind the discovery of this nutrient’s role in heart health.
A Tale for Cardiovascular Health
Although omega-3 fatty acids were identified many decades ago as cellular membrane components, they were thought rather unimportant and had no specific or unique function.
But that all changed in the late 1970s when two Danish researchers, Drs. Hans Bang and Jørn Dyerberg, reported Greenland Inuit had lower concentrations of heart-damaging blood lipids (cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides) when compared to a western (Danish) population. The researchers hypothesized that this cardioprotective profile was also consistent with better heart health reported in these individuals.
Moreover, Bang and Dyerberg also documented that despite a very high fat diet, as a result of their copious intake of seafood, the Inuit population consumed an extremely high dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids resulting in a correspondingly high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood (1-3).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Affect Numerous Biological Processes
But the heart-healthy benefits of EPA and DHA from fish or fish oil supplements were not solely due to their impact on blood lipids. Bang and Dyerberg also speculated that the heart-healthy benefits attributed to a higher than average omega-3 fatty acid intake were also due to the ability of these fats to interfere in the biosynthesis of eicosanoids (including the prostaglandins and thromboxanes) (4).
Under normal conditions, these hormone-like, cell signaling molecules stimulate processes that result in restricting blood flow and increasing blood clotting. The omega-3 fatty acids actually inhibit these pathways, hence, improving cardiovascular health. Additional, scientifically supported mechanisms behind the cardioprotective benefits of EPA and DHA include their ability to affect membrane fluidity and alter cellular signaling pathways (5,6).
Finally, beyond their metabolism to eicosanoids, these fatty acids are also converted to a family of metabolically beneficial lipids called resolvins, protectins, and maresins (7). Collectively, the omega-3 fatty acids provide potent biological activities that beneficially impact numerous cellular pathways resulting in cardiovascular health benefits.
Support Your Omega-3 Fatty Acid Status
To ensure an optimal intake of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), you can include daily supplementation of IsaOmega along with regular intake of fatty fish twice per week (8). IsaOmega is a high-quality fish oil supplement providing over a gram of omega-3 fatty acids and is an excellent source of EPA and DHA.
In addition to supplementation, it is important to follow the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables and include daily physical activity in your lifestyle to help your heart health.
- Bang HO, Dyerberg J, Hjøorne N. The composition of food consumed by Greenland Eskimos. Acta Med Scand 200:69-73, 1976.
- Dyerberg J, Bang HO, Hjorne N. Plasma cholesterol concentration in Caucasian Danes and Greenland West-coast Eskimos. Dan Med Bull 24:52-5, 1977.
- Dyerberg J, Bang HO. Dietary fat and thrombosis. Lancet. 1: 152, 1978.
- Dyerberg J, Bang HO. Lipid metabolism, atherogenesis, and haemostasis in Eskimos: the role of the prostaglandin-3 family. Haemostasis 8: 227-33, 1979.
- Endo J, Arita M. Cardioprotective mechanism of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Cardiol. 2016 Jan;67:22-7, 2016.
- Mozaffarian D, Wu JH. (n-3) fatty acids and cardiovascular health: are effects of EPA and DHA shared or complementary? J Nutr 142:614S-625S, 2012.
- Serhan, CN. Pro-resolving lipid mediators are leads for resolution physiology. Nature 510:92-101, 2014.
- Krauss RM, Eckel RH, Howard B et al. AHA dietary guidelines: revision 2000: A statement for healthcare professionals from the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association. Circulation 102: 2284–2299, 2000.