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Omega-3s and Your Heart 
Why Are They Essential For Heart Health? 
By Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN

Omega-3s Are Important For Your Heart Health 

  • EPA and DHA omega-3s are valuable and essential nutrients for your heart. 
  • The amount of EPA and DHA in your body influences your heart health. 
  • EPA and DHA help support healthy blood pressure levels. 

Maintaining heart health is a major concern for men and women, especially in the United States [1]. Research shows that EPA and DHA omega-3 provide many benefits for the heart, including support for healthy circulation and blood pressure levels. EPA and DHA omega-3 can also increase longevity [2]. 

EPA & DHA Omega-3s Are Valuable & Essential Nutrients For Your Heart 

The beneficial effects of EPA and DHA omega-3s on heart health were discovered more than 40 years ago when researchers found that Eskimos whose diets contained very high amounts of fat had much better heart health than those who consumed lower fat diets [3]. The Eskimos were consuming high amounts (e.g. 2,000 mg or more) of EPA and DHA omega-3. Since that time, thousands of studies have investigated the role of omega-3s and heart health. Results show that it’s the type of fat in the diet that makes the difference: trans fats and high intake of saturated fat are detrimental for the heart while EPA and DHA omega-3 fats are beneficial. 

For heart health, about 500 mg EPA and DHA is the minimum amount recommended to consume on a daily basis [4][5]. Many scientists consider 1,000 mg EPA and DHA as their daily minimum. Because of advances in food manufacturing, our consumption of other fats (e.g., meat, vegetable oils, dairy foods) has increased, but our intake of EPA and DHA remains low. 

The American Heart Association recommends that women who have high triglyceride and/or high cholesterol levels consume 1,800 mg of EPA and DHA per day.

On average, Americans consume less than 100 mg of EPA and DHA per day [8], which isn’t enough to support good heart health. Consuming at least 250 mg of EPA and DHA per day can significantly improve heart health and reduce complications related to the heart [2][9]. 

The Amount of EPA & DHA in Your Body Influences Your Heart Health 

Minimum levels are just that, minimum levels. The best way to understand your overall heart health is to know your blood level of EPA and DHA. Research shows that blood levels above 8% of EPA and DHA are the most beneficial for your heart. Most Americans have about 4% EPA and DHA in their blood [11][12]. New research shows that it takes longer for EPA and DHA levels to rise in people who carry extra body weight [13]. [At-home test kits are available (e.g., OmegaBloodCountTM) or talk with your healthcare provider]. 

EPA & DHA Help Support Healthy Blood Pressure Levels 

EPA and DHA have been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels in adults of all ages [14-17]. 

Taking 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day raises blood levels by about 4% over 6 months [12]

Eat For Your Heart 

The healthy fats EPA and DHA omega-3, as found in fish and fish oil supplements, have a beneficial effect on our heart health. Because our bodies cannot produce EPA and DHA omega-3, we need to consume them in our diet or from supplements. Aim to consume between 500-1000 mg of EPA and DHA per day; your heart will thank you for it.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm
[2] Mozaffarian D. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(6):1991S-1996S. 
[3] Dyerberg J, Bang HO, Hjorne N. Am J Clin Nutr 1975;28(9):958-966. 
[4] Vannice G, Rasmussen H. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(1):136-153. 
[5] International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids. 2004. 
[6] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. NHANES 2009-2010. 
[7] Harris WS, Mozaffarian D, Lefevre M, et al. J Nutr 2009;139(4):804S-819S. 
[8] Uauy R, Dangour A. Ann Nutr Metabolism 2009;55:76-96. 
[9] Harris WS. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(6):1997S-2002S. 
[10] Harris WS. Curr Cardiol Rep 2010;12:503-508. 
[11] Flock MR, Skulas-Ray AC, et al. J Am Heart Assoc. 2013;2(6):e000513. 
[12] Cabo J, Alonso R, Mata P. Br J Nutr 2012;107:Suppl 2:S195-200. 
[13] Geleijnse JM, Giltay EJ, Grobbee DE, et al. J Hypertens 2002;20(8):1493-1499. 
[14] Ginty AT, Conklin SM.. Biol Psychol 2012;89(1):269-272. 
[15] Skulas-Ray AC, Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, West SG. Ann Behav Med 2012; 44(3):301-308.