Omega 3 fatty acids, do they help lower cholesterol?

Do you usually include omega 3 fatty acids in your diet? We have good news for you.

Known as “healthy fats,” omega 3s are polyunsaturated fats found in fish, seeds, vegetables, and certain supplements. As different studies show, its regular consumption is beneficial for health, mainly due to its effects on cholesterol and triglycerides.

What is omega 3?

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat, which, together with monounsaturated, make up healthy fats. Omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)– Found in fish, such as anchovies, herring, tuna, salmon, or sardines, nuts, such as walnuts or almonds, and certain supplements, such as fish oil.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): It is found in seeds, such as flaxseed or chia, dried fruits, such as walnuts, soybeans, and supplements.

Experts point out that omega 3 should be part of any healthy diet, since the body cannot manufacture it and it is necessary for several of its functions, such as cell growth or muscle activity.

Do they help lower cholesterol?

Fats often carry a negative connotation, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. However, different studies agree that omega 3s (mainly DHA and EPA) can have benefits for the heart.

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For example, works published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, Lipids Health and Disease or American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs, found that omega-3 fatty acids can be recommended as part of a treatment to lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Although it is common for it to be confused or used synonymously, triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids that circulate in the blood. While cholesterol is used to build cells and hormones, triglycerides provide the body with energy.

Currently, there is no RDA for EPA and DHA to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, although intake in studies typically ranges from 250-500mg to 5g per day.

To cover this consumption, a large amount of fish, nuts and seeds is necessary, so supplements are often used to meet those amounts. But remember, you should never use omega 3 supplements or any other type without the recommendation and supervision of a health professional.

Another benefit of omega-3 fatty acids with respect to the lipid profile is that they can increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. This is responsible for removing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol from the arteries.

Omega-3 consumption was also linked to the following cardiovascular benefits:

  • Helps the heart maintain a normal beat rhythm.
  • Fight inflammation.
  • Lowers blood pressure levels.
  • Improves the function of blood vessels.
  • Reduces the risk of sudden death.
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In addition, there is evidence that associates the intake of omega 3 fatty acids with other benefits that go beyond cardiovascular health:

  • Lower blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of diabetes.
  • Strengthen bones, while reducing the risk of bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
  • Prevent periodontal disease.
  • Protect brain health.
  • Reduce the risk of eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration or cataracts.

Beware of supplements

Obtaining omega 3 fatty acids through the diet is ideal, although in some cases it may be necessary to resort to dietary supplements to cover the recommended doses. However, the latter must be decided by a healthcare professional.

Keep in mind that if these supplements are not used correctly under the supervision of a doctor, there is a risk of ingesting omega 3 in excess, which, far from benefiting the body, can cause side effects, such as cardiovascular problems or stomach pain.

The negative effects of dietary supplements are not only due to their excessive consumption or to the fact that it is impossible to know with certainty what they contain, but also to:

  • Presence of active ingredients in supplements with strong biological effects on the body.
  • Improper combination of supplements.
  • Combination of supplements with medications.
  • Substitute medications for supplements.
  • In order not to be in danger when using supplements, you must take into account different safety measures. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shares these tips so that the user knows the supplements and does not fall into the inappropriate use of them:

    • If you are looking for supplements on the Internet, use non-commercial sites, such as the National Institutes of Health, FDA, or the Federal Department of Agriculture. In this way, you will not depend on the information offered by sellers.
    • Allow yourself to doubt when statements are too good to be true, such as: “works better than a prescription drug,” “totally safe,” or “has no side effects.”
    • Remember, natural does not always mean safe.
    • To remind:

      Until significant scientific evidence from human trials is available, people interested in using herbal therapies and supplements should exercise extreme caution.

      Do not abandon or modify your medications or treatments, first talk to your doctor about the potential effects of alternative or complementary therapies.

      Remember, the medicinal properties of herbs and supplements can also interact with prescription drugs, other herbs and supplements, and even alter your diet.

      Sources consulted: Comprehensive Natural Medicines Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, National Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

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