The importance of omega-3 fatty acids for human nutrition — and especially for heart heath — first became apparent in the 1970s when researchers investigated the diet of Eskimos in Greenland and discovered this population had lower blood cholesterol levels than other Danish or Western groups. Because the Eskimo diet was found to be higher in fat from fish, the researchers attributed the more favorable blood cholesterol levels to the long chain polyunsaturated fats — or omega-3 fatty acids — found in seafood. And the research has continued ever since.
Omega-3 fatty acids are now known to be a “good fat” and are considered a vital part of a balanced diet. Evolving research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial part of cell membranes. Our bodies have trillions of cells, and omega-3 fatty acids help many of these cells function properly. They are also well known for their role in helping to prevent heart disease through their potential ability to:
- Regulate blood clotting
- Keep the heart beating on its normal rhythm
- Prevent/improve inflammation
- Reduce blood pressure
- Improve blood vessel function
- Improve cholesterol levels
- Lower triglycerides
Additionally, we also know now that there are several types of omega-3s:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) helps keep body tissues healthy.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a major component of cell membranes in your eyes and brain.
- Both EPA and DHA are found mostly in fish, shellfish, and algae.
- Alpha linoleic acid (ALA) is found mostly in vegetable oils, flax seed and walnuts and also plays a role in maintaining healthy body tissues.