The heart health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids — found in salmon, tuna and other cold-water fish — have long been touted. But according to the November issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource, new research indicates that omega-3 fats might not be as beneficial as previously believed.
For more than two decades, omega-3 fatty acids have been thought to improve heart health by reducing inflammation and blood clotting and lowering cholesterol and other blood fat (triglycerides) levels. Some studies have indicated that omega-3 may slightly lower blood pressure, slow the growth of fat deposits (plaques) in arteries and suppress heart arrhythmias.
Although dozens of studies have given omega-3 high marks in protecting health, recent study reviews have questioned its effectiveness in some areas.
A review of 89 studies published last spring concluded that omega-3 fats don’t reduce the risk of death, cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke, or cancer. The researchers noted that more study is needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of omega-3. Another major study review, published last summer, raised similar questions but concluded that omega-3 reduces the overall risk of death as well as the risk of cardiac and sudden death and stroke.
So what now? Although the benefits of omega-3 may not be a broad as once thought — or require additional study — dietary recommendations about omega-3 haven’t changed. For adults in good health, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish rich in omega-3 fats at least twice a week.
The benefits of obtaining omega-3 through fish oil supplements have always been less clear. In general, experts say getting omega-3 from food sources is preferable.