Omega-3s Benefit People With a High Risk of Heart Disease

For individuals with a family history of heart disease, eating more fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and herring could help lower their risk of developing cardiovascular conditions.

Evidence from previous research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, nuts, and dietary supplements that contain fish oil, may boost heart health, protect against cognitive decline, and improve lung function.

However, according to new research published on December 4 in Circulation, omega-3s might be even more important for people with a family history of heart attack, cardiac arrest, or stroke.

The study, led by scientists from the Karolinska Institutet, examined fatty acid levels in the blood and tissues of 40,885 people without cardiovascular disease. The team also analyzed each person's family history to determine their genetic risk for heart problems.

After analyzing the data, the scientists found that participants who had a close relative with cardiovascular disease and low levels of EPA and DHA were over 40% more likely to develop heart disease.

In contrast, those who had a family history of heart disease and adequate omega-3 levels had a 25% increased risk of heart problems.

This means that for someone with a parent or sibling with cardiovascular disease, omega-3s may help reduce their chance of developing a heart condition.

In a press release, lead study author Karin Leander, a senior lecturer and associate professor of epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet, said, "The study suggests that those with a family history of cardiovascular disease have more to gain from eating more oily fish than others."

Leander says measuring fatty acids in blood and tissue is a more reliable method of determining a person's levels than surveying participants about their dietary intake of fatty fish. So, despite being observational, the study's findings revealed new insight into omega-3s' role in cardiovascular disease risk. The results also suggest the need for health experts to emphasize the benefit of consuming fatty fish for individuals with a family history of cardiovascular disease.

How much Omega-3 do people need?

The three primary types of omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). EPA and DHA are found in fish and seafood, while ALA comes from plant-based sources such as flaxseed and soybean oil.

The body doesn't produce these fatty acids, so a person must eat foods rich in DHA, EPA, and ALA or take fish oil supplements to increase Omega-3 levels.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), health experts still need to establish recommended amounts of EPA and DHA. However, the recommended amount of ALA varies from 0.5 to 1.6 grams, depending on an individual's age and sex.

Still, an American Heart Association (AHA) report suggests that 4 grams of prescription fish oil supplements per day may effectively lower triglycerides, and consuming 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily via food or supplements may help lower blood pressure.

The AHA says that about 4 to 5 ounces of Atlantic salmon provide 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.

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