Get heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids from fish or supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids – specifically EPA and DHA – are nutrients that help the heart to function optimally and are essential to a healthy life. Adequate omega-3 levels make the heart more resistant to irregular, potentially fatal, rhythm disorders, and below are key benefits they have on your heart health.


Do have your blood tested

You can take a simple blood test to find out your “Omega-3 Index” that can be administered by yourself, or by a doctor. Look online and at your local supermarket for blood tests that can tell you your omega-3 index if you feel comfortable administering a blood test without a doctor. If you feel like you would prefer a doctor to do the blood test, ask your primary care physician to measure your omega-3 index.

Do update your diet

The best omega-3 packed foods include “oily fish” – salmon, herring, mackerel, albacore tuna, sardines, and even oysters. Eating about 2 oz. of salmon per week will give your body about 1000 mg of EPA and DHA.

Do visit the drugstore

Supplements at your local drugstore are a good way to get omega-3s – a goal to aim for is about 500-1000 mg of EPA and DHA per day.

There are store brands and name brands. According to Consumer’s Report, there is no material difference in the quality of the two. The cheaper products typically have less EPA and DHA per capsule (see the side panel, and be sure to note “Serving Size” when determining the amount of these two fatty acids PER 1 CAPSULE) than the more expensive products.

Some products have relatively higher amounts of omega-3 but come at the cost of a bigger pill. For example, a product may have 900 mg of EPA+DHA per 1400 mg capsule. That product therefore contains a fish oil that is 64% EPA+DHA. Another product might have 900 mg per 1000 mg capsule. That contains a more highly concentrated oil (90% EPA+DHA) and you get the same dose of omega-3 in a more easy to swallow capsule. The gummy omega-3 products contain very low amounts of omega-3. One common brand has only 16 mg of DHA (and no EPA) per gummy.

Do choose a capsule or liquid form

The most common liquid form of omega-3 is cod liver oil. It is relatively low in EPA and DHA (20% or so), but since it is typically taken by teaspoon, you still get about 1g per teaspoon, the equivalent of 3 standard capsules. You can find other forms of liquid fish oil that are more concentrated, but these are usually flavored to mask the flavor of fish.

Do take before bedtime

A “fishy burp” can be avoided by taking fish oil with meals or at bedtime. Usually, the more concentrated (purified) the product is, the less the fishy burp.


Do not worry about contaminants

There is very little to worry about when it comes to pollutants in fish oil capsules. The process of concentrating the omega-3 fatty acids from crude fish oil prior to encapsulation removes virtually all of the organic pollutants. Mercury is not a problem either!

Do not face a further risk of heart attack or stroke

Because taking Omega-3s has been proven to lower levels of triglycerides, you are less at risk of facing disease after minimizing blood fat and cholesterol in the body.

Do not worry about your stomach lining dissolving

Some people are aware that ethyl esters found in some omega-3 supplement can actually dissolve styrofoam cups. However, the acids will not have the same effect on your stomach and are completely safe.

Do not worry about taking a supplement on an empty stomach

The fatty acids in the supplements will be absorbed into the body with or without food. Most fish oil supplements can be taken on an empty stomach and will be absorbed just fine. The exception to this rule is supplements that come in the “ethyl ester” form, which are much better absorbed when taken with food. In either case, the chances of getting a fishy burp are probably greater when taken on an empty stomach. As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to take fish oil capsules with food.

Do not worry about fishy flavor

Many liquid forms of the oil have been made with a more appealing flavor to masque the undesired taste. If you do start taking a fish oil supplement that has a fishy taste, you should try a different brand or kind. There are plenty of options out there if you are unsatisfied with the product.

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Whether you begin to take Omega 3 supplements or work to incorporate these foods more frequently into your diet, the effects will have short and long term benefits to your overall health.

84,000 deaths per year could be prevented in the U.S. if consumers consumed as little as 250 mg of omega-3s each day. There is no better time than now to schedule a blood test to uncover your Omega-3 levels. There is nothing fishy about keeping your blood streams flowing steady by consuming more Omega-3s.

More expert advice about Heart Disease

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William S. Harris, PhD, FAHA President and CEO

Dr. Harris is an internationally recognized expert on omega-3 fatty acids and how they can benefit patients with heart disease. He obtained his PhD in Human Nutrition from the University of Minnesota, and did post-doctoral fellowships in Clinica...

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