A cardiologist tells all.

You've likely heard so much about the benefits of a fish oil supplement, that it's possible you have forgotten why exactly it comes so highly recommended. The main reason? It's rich in omega-3s—naturally found in fatty fish, seeds, and nuts—which can ultimately boost your heart's health. To help us dig a little deeper into the connection between these nutrients and your cardiovascular system, we asked Florida-based cardiologist Dr. Leonard Pianko for his insight, ahead.

Fish Oil Bursting From a Whole Fresh Mackerel
Credit: Shana Novak / Getty Images

What are omega-3s?

"Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that our body cannot produce on its own, but must get from our diets," Dr. Pianko says, noting that there are three main types: ALA, EPA, and DHA. And since an omega-3-enriched diet isn't preferred (or tolerated) by everyone, supplements (including fish oil) exist to fill the gap and provide these essential nutrients in an easily-digestible capsule.

What are the overarching benefits of these nutrients?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, omega-3s reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and blood clots, lower triglyceride levels (which are the leading cause of body fat), blood pressure, and inflammation, and raise HDL levels (the good kind of cholesterol)—and can even help prevent heart attacks and stroke. In other words, they are beneficial for those with heart disease or other health conditions (including high cholesterol and obesity) that can put a strain on the cardiovascular system, and can be used preventatively, as well.

What's the link between omega-3s and heart health?

Dr. Pianko affirms that a diet rich in omega-3s is critical for the prevention of heart disease—and can even slow down its progression. And since most do not realize that they are at risk for developing such ailments, he continues, seeking out these nutrients is a must-do for everyone (especially if your diet is high in triglycerides and cholesterol, which puts you at risk for atherosclerosis, or the the build-up of cholesterol and fats within artery walls). Ultimately, if you know your diet could be better, you have a family history of heart disease, or you're looking for new ways to promote your health, omega-3s are a worthy consideration.

How can you add them into your diet?

Foods rich in omega-3s include nuts (like walnuts), seeds (think chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds), fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines), and seafood (oysters in particular). While filling your plate with these whole foods can lead to a world of health benefits, not everyone has the same taste and tolerance for these ingredients. As such, another way to reap the rewards of omega-3s is to add a fish oil supplement into your daily routine. Dr. Pianko says that this can be effective for those who do not get a sufficient amount of fish in their diet. "That said, it is recommended that you eat at least two servings of fatty fish (such as salmon or tuna) a week, since it is preferable to get our omega-3 fatty acids from food rather than a supplement," he explains, noting that it is important to consult with your doctor if you do decide to go the supplement route.


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