Omega 3: Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Heart Benefits

Omega 3: Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Heart Benefits


Omega 3s are lipids belonging to the category of essential fatty acids , in the same way as omega 6s .Structurally, they are molecules characterized by carbon chains rich in hydrogen atoms and ending in a methyl group.
Omega 3s perform many essential functions for maintaining health and guarantee a series of metabolic benefits which, indirectly, have a positive effect on heart health .
There are three types of omega 3s: alpha linolenic acid ALA ), eicosapentaenoic acid EPA ), and docosahexaenoic acid DHA ); of these three molecules, the most biologically active ones are DHA and EPA.
Although in different foods and in different quantities, omega 3s are all present in the diet; EPA and DHA tend to be more deficient than ALA; from the latter, however, the human organism is able to derive the first two.The term essential indicates that the human body is not able to produce them autonomously and that, in order to have them, it can only introduce them with food.
In reality, this is only true for ALA, as EPA and DHA can be obtained from ALA; however, considering that the process that allows EPA and DHA to be obtained from ALA is somewhat precarious, it is still acceptable to define EPA and DHA themselves as essential.

Omega 3 and Triglycerides

Action of Omega 3 on Triglyceride Levels

The nutritional intake of omega 3 is linked to lipemia (total amount of lipids in the blood ), in particular to the amount of triglycerides in the blood ( triglyceridemia ).

A significant intake of alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) tends to decrease blood triglycerides.
Proven and recognized by research institutes around the world, this effect – the reduction of triglycerides in the blood – is one of the most important functions of omega 3.

  • The triglyceride-lowering action of omega 3 is visible not only with the decrease in total triglycerides, but also with the decrease in certain   transport lipoproteins (in particular LDL , i.e. low-density lipoproteins); the effect of reducing triglycerides could be the result of three different mechanisms:
    • o Reduction of  fatty acids , perhaps due to the increase in   cellular  beta oxidation (consumption of lipids in the mitochondria  to produce  energy );
    • o Reduction in the flow of free fatty acids to the  liver ;
    • o Reduction of  fatty acid synthesis  in the liver.
  • Although EPA and DHA perform differentiated and highly specific biological functions, they both have a hypotriglyceride-lowering power.

The American Heart Association states that “those who need to reduce blood triglycerides should consume, in agreement with their doctor and using supplements , 2 to 4 grams of EPA and DHA per day”.

NB : the chemical form of omega 3 used in the most recent studies is the “ethyl ester”, i.e. the same used for the production of supplements.

Omega 3 and Cholesterol

Action of Omega 3 on Cholesterol Levels

The positive action of omega 3 on lipemia would seem to be limited to triglycerides and their reduction in the blood; several scientific studies, in fact, have shown that the administration of omega 3 does not significantly alter the levels of LDL (the so-called bad cholesterol ), HDL (the so-called good cholesterol ) and the levels of total cholesterol in the blood (cholesterolemia).

It must be pointed out, however, that there are studies whose results are in contrast with what has just been reported (ie they claim that omega 3 could improve LDL, HDL and total cholesterolemia ).

Omega 3 and Heart Health

Action of Omega 3 on Heart Health

To protect and promote heart health, the American Heart Association recommends the following:

  • Individuals with no medical history of coronary heart disease or myocardial infarction should consume fatty fish or fish oil (both sources of omega 3) twice a week ;
  • Those diagnosed with coronary artery disease or recovering from myocardial infarction should consume 1 gram of EPA and DHA per day , whether it comes from fatty fish or dietary supplements .

However, there are recent studies that question the cardio -protective effect of omega 3; according to these researches, in fact, the intake of ALA, EPA and DHA does not always significantly reduce the risk of cardiac pathologies , such as coronary artery disease , coronary insufficiency , coronary stenosis , sudden cardiac death and myocardial infarction ( including the lightning variant).

Nonetheless, it must be remembered that there is indisputable evidence regarding the positive effect of omega 3 on many factors favoring cardiovascular pathologies ; these evidences say, for example, that omega 3:

  • They reduce triglyceridemia;
  • They reduce blood pressure , both in normotensive people (ie with normal blood pressure) and in those suffering from primary arterial hypertension ;
  • They reduce the damage connected to chronic hyperglycemia ;
  • Anti-inflammatory factors increase;
  • They thin the blood, reducing the tendency to form emboli and thrombi ;
  • They improve blood circulation.

Based on recent research, the positive influence that omega 3s have on certain cardiovascular risk factors is greater when these essential acids come from a balanced diet, rather than from supplements; the reason for this, however, is not clear and needs to be explored with further studies.

In conclusion, it should be noted that, according to yet other studies, an excess of omega 3 , especially poorly stored and in the case of vitamin E deficiency , can have the opposite effect to that of protecting against certain cardiovascular risk factors.
In light of this, it is important to avoid both a shortage and an excess.


Is Omega 3 Deficiency Possible?

For the reasons mentioned above, it is necessary to take omega 3 in the right quantities, avoiding nutritional deficiency .

The  human body  “should” be able to effectively derive EPA and DHA from ALA (more abundant in food).
However, for various reasons (including malabsorption , enzymatic insufficiency, etc.) this ability can be compromised; if so, a nutritional deficiency may occur and it becomes necessary to increase the nutritional intake of EPA and DHA .

To avoid the lack of all omega 3, it is advisable to follow some dietary behaviors, including:

  • Regularly eat  vegetables , fruit ,  whole grains ,  legumes  and other seeds (eg: flax, chia, perilla , cranberry, soy , etc.), as they are sources of alpha linolenic acid. Many people overlook the fact that the “natural” source of ALA is the sum of all these foods, not the oil that can be made from them.
  • Eat 3-4 portions of fish a week , preferably small (limit the consumption of  tuna steaks ,  swordfish,  etc.) and fish (avoid, if possible, the consumption of farmed fish). Such a food product is rich in EPA and DHA.

“Fish” is not synonymous with ” fishery products “. Molluscs  and  crustaceans  do not provide the same nutritional contribution as “thorn fish”.

  • Replace a small part of the traditional condiment with seeds rich in ALA and/or related cold -pressed oil , used raw and well preserved.

An oil (but also another food or supplement) potentially rich in omega 3, if exposed to light, heat, open air, cooked or simply “old”, no longer has the same nutritional characteristics.

  • If necessary, complete the diet using a food supplement , preferably based on DHA (fish, algae, krill oil). In this regard, it should be remembered that, compared to any derived supplement, foods make use of greater stability and conservation (thanks to the presence of  antioxidants  such as vitamins A , C, E,  zinc  and  selenium ) and that, for against, they are less concentrated and require more attention and continuity in hiring.


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