Omega-3 fatty acids have a reputation for being ‘heart healthy’ and ‘supporting cardiovascular health’. If you’ve ever wondered how they do it or what exactly that all means, this is the blog post for you.
First, let’s define our terms. What are omega-3s? They’re a group of fatty acids essential to good health. The key ones are:
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Having enough of these fats in our cell membranes contributes to improved blood flow and vascular tone, reduced inflammation and hardening of arteries, healthy blood pressure and lower blood triglyceride levels. Higher DHA/EPA levels also correlate with reduced risk of coronary heart disease(CHD).
ALA is known as the ‘parent’ omega-3 fatty acid because it can be converted into EPA and DHA as part of fat metabolism in the body. Several research reviews have noted its benefits in supporting cardiovascular health by helping keep vascular tone, inflammation, heart rhythm and blood pressure in healthy ranges and contributing to reduction in coronary heart disease (CHD).
Acronym Soup: DHA and EPA FTW for CVD
For DHA and EPA, a ‘hot off the presses’ February 2021 Mayo Clinic meta-analysis pooled a total of 40 studies with a combined 135,267 participants to look at whether these omega-3s could help reduce cardiovascular disease. It found an 87% relative risk reduction and concluded that “supplementation with EPA and DHA is an effective lifestyle strategy for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, and the protective effect probably increases with dosage.” Dosages in the clinical trials covered varied from 400 mg/day to 5500 mg/day of combined DHA+EPA, with an average of 1221 mg/day.
DHA and Mitochondria
A 2021 review article on DHA also had some interesting findings in how it affects our mitochondria. These little energy factories in our cells are so important, their loss of function over time is thought to be a major basis for aging and disease. Anything we can do to support their health (eg. reducing stress, getting enough exercise, eating a nutritious diet and wise use of key supplements) will benefit us greatly in the long run. In this review of DHA’s heart protective effects, DHA was found to increase cardiolipin, a compound that is unique to mitochondria and essential for optimal mitochondrial function. This review noted that DHA decreases damage to cardiac mitochondria specifically and helps to prevent cell death. I’ve been reading and writing about omega-3 fats for 15 years now and am still learning and coming across unique ways like this that they support our health.
Omega-3s in the Diet
So, knowing how important these fatty acids are, where can we find omega-3 fats in the diet? Fatty fish like tuna and salmon can provide DHA and EPA but global depleted fishing stocks and contamination with heavy metals have led many to look to cleaner, more sustainable sources. Flora uses algae, or algal oil specifically, as a way to add DHA and EPA ingredients in some of our product offerings. ALA can be found in a few seeds and nuts like flax, walnut and the more exotic sacha inchi seed. Flora makes the original Udo’s Oil™ 3·6·9 Blend as well as Udo’s Oil™ DHA 3·6·9 Blend, which is an easy way to get a comprehensive blend of several key omega fats, including ALA and DHA. Enjoy 15% off these omega blends this week by using code ‘heart15’ at checkout on our site.