Harvard Women's Health Watch

Omega-3-rich foods: Good for your heart

Learn what these essential fatty acids can do for your cardiovascular health, and where to find the best sources.

Back in the 1970s, Danish researchers discovered something curious about the Inuits of Greenland. Despite eating a high-fat diet (about 40% of their daily calories came from fat), the Inuits had far lower rates of heart disease and heart attacks than people in Western nations. When the researchers delved deeper, they discovered one reason for the Inuits' low rates of heart disease: a seafood-heavy diet rich in the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Since then, investigators have homed in on omega-3s—not just for their cardiovascular benefits, but also for their potential effects on thinking ability, vision, and inflammation.

At least with regard to heart health, "The list of clear, well-established physiologic benefits is quite long," says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "People who consume more fish have a lower risk of dying from heart disease." The omega-3s in fish have several heart-healthy effects: they lower heart rate and blood pressure, and they improve the health of blood vessels.

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