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Packed with protein and an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, fish is an important element to a complete diet. The benefits of eating fish help both those who are healthy and those who have cardiovascular disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends two servings of fatty fish per week, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, to name a few.1 However, while everyone needs the dietary value fish provides, not everyone likes the taste. Although the AHA doesn’t consider supplementation commensurate to fish consumption, it may be worth talking to a physician about taking omega-3 nutritional supplements if eating fish isn’t realistic for you.2
Whether you’re enjoying grilled salmon a few nights a week or taking a supplement every morning, consider the benefits of having a healthy amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
Heart health may be one of the most well-known benefits of maintaining a diet high in omega-3s. According to the AHA, these fatty acids have been found to help hearts by
- decreasing the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats),
- decreasing triglyceride levels,
- slowing the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque,
- and lowering blood pressure.1
Omega-3s work particularly well for heart health because they may be able to reduce inflammation throughout the body, which, in turn, can reduce the inflammation that can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. The Mayo Clinic suggests “eating at least one to two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids,” as research shows it may reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death.3
Several studies have found that those with hypertension who have high levels of omega-3s in their diets have lower blood pressure. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) noted one analysis that looked at 17 different clinical studies and “found that taking 3 or more grams of fish oil daily may reduce blood pressure in people with untreated hypertension.” The writers noted, however, that these doses were high and required direction from a physician.4
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Several groups have studied the effects of fish oil on RA symptoms, specifically morning stiffness and joint pain.4
According to UMMC, “An analysis of 17 randomized, controlled clinical trials looked at the pain relieving effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements in people with RA or joint pain caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea). The results suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, along with conventional therapies such as NSAIDs, may help relieve joint pain associated with these conditions.”4
Research is ongoing and clinical studies continue to pop up to further investigate the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and a diet rich in fish. In addition to the conditions above, UMMC noted several areas in which the effects of omega-3s are currently being studied:4
- High cholesterol
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- Biopolar disorder
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Cognitive decline
- Skin disorders
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Macular degeneration
- Menstrual pain
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
In many of these cases, studies have found mixed results, and in all of these cases, more research is needed. However, it is clear that adding omega-3s to your routine can be very beneficial to your overall health. Be sure to consult a physician before adding any supplements to your diet.
1 American Heart Association. “Fish 101.” Heart.org. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Fish-101_UCM_305986_Article.jsp#. Updated February 2014. Accessed December 2014.
2 American Heart Association. “Eating Fish for Heart Health.” Heart.org. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Eating-Fish-for-Heart-Health_UCM_440433_Article.jsp#. Updated November 2014. Accessed December 2014.
3 Mayo Clinic Staff. “Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart.” MayoClinic.org. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614. Updated February 2014. Accessed December 2014.
4 University of Maryland Medical Center. “Omega-3 fatty acids.” UMM.edu. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids. Updated June 2013. Accessed December 2014.