Understanding myths and facts of ‘omega-3s’

Feature Article- Fri., Feb. 4, 2011
Contributed
- Contributed Photo

Did you know that including omega-3s in your daily diet is an easy way to support heart health? In fact, the American Heart Association has recommended the consumption of polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, for good heart health. February is recognized as American Heart Month, so it’s only fitting to review some common myths and truths about omega-3s and your heart.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen some exciting – and promising – developments in the research surrounding omega-3s and their effects on health,” says Dr. Harry Oken, board certified in internal medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland. “Including enough omega-3s in your daily diet is an easy lifestyle change to support healthier hearts – but in my work with patients, I find that there are a lot of misperceptions around these important nutrients. Clearing up these myths is the first step toward ensuring that my patients get the omega-3s they need,” he says.
Myth No. 1: All fat is bad.
It is often said that Americans consume too much fat, but in the U.S. and other parts of the world, many people don’t eat enough good fat. Consuming polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are important for cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, fewer than half of Americans know that the “better” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) can help reduce their risk of heart disease, according to a survey conducted for the American Heart Association.
Myth No. 2: All omega-3s are the same.
No doubt you’ve heard a lot about the benefits of omega-3s. But did you know that not all omega-3s are created equal? There are three main omega-3s: DHA, EPA and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and each has distinct health benefits. DHA supports optimal brain and eye development and function and supports heart health. EPA also supports heart health. ALA is used as a source of energy. “When it comes to heart health, DHA and EPA are the omegas you need,” says Oken.
Myth No. 3: My body can make all the nutrients it needs for a strong heart, including omega-3s.
The human body does not produce significant amounts of DHA or EPA on its own – it must get these important nutrients from the foods you eat. The main dietary source of DHA and EPA is cold-water fish. Unfortunately, the typical American diet includes far less DHA and EPA than optimal. Individuals with documented cardiovascular disease might need to consider daily intakes as high as 1 gram of DHA and EPA per day, according to the American Heart Association.
Myth No. 4: Fish is the only source of heart-healthy omega-3s.
Fish and fish oil are not the only sources of DHA and EPA. While most people believe that fish produce their own DHA and EPA, it’s actually the algae in their food chain that makes them a rich source of these omega-3s.
For those who do not consume significant amounts of fish on a regular basis due to dietary preferences, allergies, a vegetarian lifestyle or worries about potential ocean-borne pollutants, there are DHA/EPA supplements on the market that are made from algae. One example is Ovega-3, which is made from sustainable algae that is completely vegan and free of ocean-borne contaminants and provides 500mg of DHA and EPA.
Myth No. 5: Flaxseed provides me all the omega-3s I need for my heart.
This is a very common misconception. But in fact, flaxseed oil is a source of ALA. ALA has no known independent benefits on brain, eye or heart development and function, as DHA and EPA do. And, although the human body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA, the process is inefficient and variable.
Courtesy of ARA Content


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