Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in promoting heart and brain health by bolstering the immune system, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels. These effects help mitigate the risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. Despite their importance, most Americans lack sufficient omega-3 intake. Three main types of omega-3s exist: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body can convert into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, people primarily raise their levels through consuming omega-3-rich foods and supplements. Unfortunately, surveys suggest that the average American only consumes about 0.1 gram of EPA and DHA daily.
While U.S. health agencies don’t provide guidelines for EPA and DHA intake, they do recommend daily ALA consumption based on age and gender. The National Academy of Medicine suggests men should have 1.6 grams of ALA daily, and women need 1.1 grams (with higher amounts for pregnant or breastfeeding individuals). ALA is found in foods like walnuts, flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. Meanwhile, EPA and DHA are abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends two servings of fish per week for heart health, with each serving equaling 6 ounces when cooked. While food is the preferred source of nutrients, supplements like fish oil capsules can be beneficial, especially for those who don’t consume fish regularly. An AHA advisory notes that omega-3 supplements may slightly lower the risk of death after heart failure or a recent heart attack but do not prevent heart disease.
The AHA issued a separate advisory in 2019 stating that taking 4 grams per day of prescription fish oil supplements can safely and effectively lower elevated triglyceride levels. However, the advisory cautioned against unregulated supplements. A 2022 analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that consuming 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily, either through food or supplements, may be optimal for lowering blood pressure. This is equivalent to around 4 to 5 ounces of Atlantic salmon. Omega-3 supplement doses can vary, but they typically contain about 0.3 grams per pill.
A recent analysis published in JAHA found that taking over 2 grams per day of combined DHA and EPA supplements can lower triglycerides and non-HDL cholesterol but not LDL cholesterol. Non-HDL cholesterol represents total cholesterol minus HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps remove harmful LDL. The study suggests that omega-3 supplements might be particularly beneficial for individuals who are overweight or have obesity.
“People with high levels of LDL cholesterol need to seek alternative medications, such as statins, to reduce the blood level of LDL cholesterol,” stated the study’s senior author, Dr. Xinzhi Li, a pharmacy professor at Macau University of Science and Technology in China.
Because U.S. adults typically don’t get the recommended daily amount of omega-3 fatty acids, “any amount of supplement has the potential to help, even if it doesn’t lower triglycerides,” stated Skulas-Ray, who was the lead author on the AHA’s 2019 advisory.
“For the average person, taking dietary supplements is really correcting the nearly absent EPA and DHA in the American diet,” she stated. “Dietary supplements are a completely viable option for people who don’t eat oily fish.” People should first talk to a health care professional before starting a new supplement.
Low doses may be less likely to lower triglycerides, she said, “but they’re still worth taking because people aren’t getting enough. They help to support optimal immune function, wellness and aging. And that’s really the goal.”
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.