fish and man Omega-3 fatty acids began making headlines in the 1970s when researchers studying the Greenland Inuit Tribe found that they were not as susceptible to cardiovascular disease as much as the general population. They attributed their heart health to the consumption of large amounts of fat from fish. Some initial studies found benefit from eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Based on this information, organizations such as the American Heart Association began encouraging individuals to consume omega-3 fatty acids from fish in order to boost heart health.

With the positive information coming out about fish oil, people began looking for other alternative ways to get the benefits of fatty fish without actually having to eat the fish. Fish oil supplements began gaining popularity. But do fish oil supplements really provide those heart protection benefits that we had originally thought? The answer is not as clear as one would hope.

Certain fish bulk up on omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids by consuming plankton and other plants. These fatty acids and their health benefits are then passed on to people who eat fish regularly. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, are thought be beneficial to health by:

  • Lowering triglyceride levels—a type of fat in the blood
  • Decreasing the risk of abnormal heartbeat
  • Slowing the growth rate of plaque in the arteries
  • Slightly lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing inflammation

But do these potential health benefits translate into longer lives or fewer heart attacks and strokes?