There are three main types of Omega-3s, but when it comes to heart health, we’re really only talking about the Omega-3s EPA and DHA
EPA and DHA intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, especially for those who are considered to be in a “higher risk population”1
The AHA recommends two servings of a variety of seafood every week to get enough of the heart healthy Omega-3s EPA and DHA2
Some of the most Omega-3 rich fatty fish options are: Anchovies, Herring, Mackerel, Sardines, Salmon2,3
When choosing the right supplement, one big thing to keep in mind is the dose of EPA and DHA omega-3s, not just fish oil
Fish oil heart health benefits come from two key Omega-3s
Omega-3s are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in both plants and animals, particularly in things found in the sea.3 There are three main types of Omega-3s: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). But when it comes to heart health and the primary benefits of Omega-3s from fish, krill, and algae oil, we’re really only talking about the Omega-3s EPA and DHA.
When you eat foods with preformed EPA and DHA, such as in seafood, these fatty acids get incorporated into all your cell membranes. As a result, the healthy fats provide support for cell membrane (including in the heart) structural integrity and fluidity, which is necessary for cells to function, communicate effectively, and receive other nutrients.2 This is a significant reason why both EPA and DHA are widely regarded to have a wide range of heart health benefits.3 Here are just a few:
Omega-3s help support a healthy heart
According to the most comprehensive review to date of the Omega-3s EPA and DHA and their relationship to coronary heart disease—EPA and DHA intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, especially for those who are considered to be in a “higher risk population” such as those with higher blood triglyceride levels or low HDL (good) cholesterol.1
Not only that but not getting enough Omega-3s is also associated with increased heart-related risks. In fact, after reviewing scientific evidence on EPA and DHA and heart health, the FDA issued a Qualified Health Claim, stating, “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. (See nutrition information for total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol content).”
Higher amounts of EPA and DHA found in fish oil supports healthy blood pressure levels and also lowers blood triglyceride levels
Several clinical trials done on fish oil have shown that higher intakes of EPA and DHA (therapeutic levels of 2-4 g/day of EPA and DHA) can help lower blood pressure and lower triglyceride levels in the blood and help raise HDL – good cholesterol. If you have hypertension or high triglyceride levels, talk to your doctor about supplementing with an Omega-3 supplement and the dosage that is right for you.4,5
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 2 servings per week of seafood for healthy people
The AHA recommends two servings of a variety of seafood (preferably fatty fish) every week to get enough of the heart healthy Omega-3s EPA and DHA. A serving is about 3.5 ounces of cooked fish.6
The American Heart Association recommends about 1 gram per day of EPA and DHA for those with documented coronary heart disease
The AHA recommends about 1 g per day of EPA and DHA for people with existing coronary heart disease, preferably from fatty fish (see below for some options).6 However, since 1 g of EPA and DHA per day would require an individual to eat a lot of seafood daily, there is an opportunity to supplement the daily diet with a high-quality fish oil product to ensure you are meeting the 1 g dose of EPA and DHA every day.
Both healthy adults and those with CVD benefit from eating about 8 ounces of seafood per week
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states eating 8 ounces of seafood (that provides about 250 mg EPA and DHA) per week shows benefits both for healthy adults and those with preexisting cardiovascular disease.2
Despite the many fish oil benefits for the heart, most people don’t consume enough EPA and/or DHA
It’s estimated that around 80% of the global adult population eats below these recommended intakes for EPA or DHA.7 This is based on a 2016 study that looked at a combined percentage of EPA and DHA found in red blood cell membranes in adults around the world. In the United States, the latest research shows that over 2/3 of adults, and 95% of children, are not meeting the Dietary Guidelines recommendations above. That’s a lot of people missing out on the potential fish oil benefits of these swimmingly good heart-healthy fats.
How to get enough EPA and DHA in your diet or supplements
There are many delicious fatty fish options to explore when you’re looking to hit that 2 servings of seafood to get at least 250 mg of EPA and DHA per week. And when it comes to fish, you don’t always have to buy these fresh—you can also buy these canned or frozen.8 Here are some of the most Omega-3 rich fatty fish options (in order of highest to lowest Omega-3 amount):2,3
Anchovies (one of the highest in Omega-3s!)
Mackerel (Atlantic and Pacific)
Some foods have also started adding Omega-3s, typically from algae, to them (especially DHA), such as:9
Fish oil supplements are always an option too! When choosing the right supplement, one big thing to keep in mind is the dose of EPA and DHA omega-3s, not just fish oil. Many fish oil benefits depend on the specific amounts of EPA and DHA, so consider talking to your healthcare professional to determine the right dosage you should take. Whether you obtain your EPA and DHA omega-3s from food, supplements, or a combination of both—getting the right amount as part of a healthy lifestyle will support your heart health all year long.
Corrie became a nutritional nerd the second she learned about trans fats in college. Ever since then, she’s been trying to figure out easy life hacks for staying healthy without making her entire world about workouts and kale. She’s dedicated the last few years of her career to writing fun, educational content to help make good nutrition a little less boring and a little more accessible to non-scientists like herself. When she’s not scrolling through new research on gut health, you can find her playing Magic the Gathering or tending to her many (somehow still living) plants.
As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.