There is no shortage of research studies on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, next to aspirin, omega-3 fatty acids are the most studied ingredients, period. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts. Certain fish, such as fatty, cold-water fish, are particularly rich sources of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are the omega-3s attributed with the most health benefits.
Among all the beneficial effects of omega-3s, cardiovascular health rises to the top. Even the American Heart Association recommends that everyone consume the equivalent of 500 milligrams of EPA + DHA daily for cardiovascular health, and that those with known coronary heart disease consume 1,000 mg daily, and those with high triglycerides consume between 2,000 and 4,000 mg daily.
In order to understand how health conditions develop, and how to maintain health so that these conditions do not develop, we have to go back to the beginning. With heart disease, this means we travel back to the artery lining where it all begins. Dysfunction of the artery lining (a condition known as endothelial dysfunction) is the very first phase of heart disease and of atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup, in general.
A recent meta-analysis (an analysis of many studies) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the role of omega-3s on endothelial dysfunction. In people with cardiovascular disease or at risk of it, daily omega-3 supplementation for about 56 days was associated with a 2.3 percent improvement in flow-mediated dilation, a measure of endothelial dysfunction. The studies included dosages from 450 mg to 4,500 mg daily, and noted a dose response across dosages, with exception of the highest dosages. This means that the higher the dose, the better the response, except at the highest doses. (4,500 mg daily is a lot of omega-3—such a high dose might not have been necessary.)
The second-most notable beneficial effect of omega-3 supplementation includes brain health. In another recent study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers were able to determine through lab studies that the omega-3 DHA levels in the memory center of the brain—the hippocampus—were 30 percent higher after a high-DHA diet than after a low-DHA diet. Yves Sauve, an author of the study, stated, “What we discovered is that memory cells in the hippocampus could communicate better with each other and better relay messages when DHA levels in that region of the brain were higher. This could explain why memory improves on a high-DHA diet.”
Studies like these never cease to amaze me. This kind of research goes to show that the power of simple nutrients can have far-reaching effects on our health. What’s more, when we take the time to learn about how such nutrients positively influence our heath, we are empowered to take our health into our own hands. Health begins in each of us, with the choices we make about how we want to live, and what we put into our bodies.