By Pure Matters
Taking good care of your heart is a lot like playing a shrewd game of poker: You need to hold on to the good habits (exercise, eating right) and discard the bad ones (smoking, eating too much saturated fat) until you've got a winning combo for heart health. One card to draw today? Omega-3 fatty acids. Here's how these good-for-you fats can help boost your heart health ... and how to take in enough to stack the deck in your favor.
So Many Ways Omega-3s Help Heart Health
Experts believe that omega-3s can prevent heart disease in healthy people and slow its progress in people who already have it. The short version of the omega-3 connection to the heart: Over time, plaque can build up in your arteries, narrowing them and making it harder for blood to flow through. Eventually, the channels can become so narrow that a blood clot or loose piece of plaque can get stuck, blocking blood flow and causing a heart attack. Inflammation (swelling) can also narrow the arteries, raising your heart attack risk.
Enter omega-3s: Research shows that these fatty acids slow the growth of artery plaque. They also help prevent both inflammation and blood clots, and they can positively affect certain risk factors associated with heart disease or heart attack—namely, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and abnormal heartbeat.
Stacking Your Diet with Omega-3s
Experts have found that people who eat foods with high levels of two omega-3 fatty acids -- EPA and DHA (also called eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) -- have low rates of heart disease. These omega-3s are found in fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon. The American Heart Association recommends eating some type of fatty fish at least twice a week. Another source for EPA and DHA is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Foods rich in ALA include flaxseed, walnuts and other nuts, and soy, canola, and flaxseed oils. You can try adding these foods to your weekly diet.
Worried that you're not getting enough of these nutrients through diet alone? One easy way to boost your intake is through a daily supplement that contains EPA and DHA. In fact, the American Heart Association says that people who already have heart disease should take 1 gram of a supplement of EPA and DHA every day. If you have high triglycerides, you can take 2 to 4 grams a day. (A blood test can determine if this is true for you.) Ask your doctor how many grams of omega-3s would be best for you, and take it to heart.