Plant-based omega-3s may improve heart health, study finds

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For individuals who don’t eat fish but still want to get in their omega-3 fatty acids, researchers have found the plant-based version of the nutrient, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can benefit heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

In a new comprehensive literature review published in Advances in Nutrition, conducted by Pennsylvania State University, researchers found there were multiple ways of meeting the omega-3 recommendations. Consuming ALA that is found in walnuts and flaxseeds was associated with a 10 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20 percent reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease.

Researchers evaluated randomized controlled trials and observational studies and found that dietary ALA reduced total cholesterol, low density-lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Epidemiological studies and trials have also shown an anti-inflammatory effect of consuming ALA, according to the study.

The review found evidence supporting current dietary guidelines that ALA should provide about 0.6 percent to one percent of total energy in a day, which is about 1.1 grams a day for women and 1.6 grams a day for men. These recommendations are equal to about ½ ounce of walnuts or just under one teaspoon of flaxseed oil, researchers said.

“With the advent of precision nutrition and personalized medicine, we are more aware than ever of the need to identify and target individuals who might get the largest benefit from increasing their consumption of ALA-rich foods,” said Aleix Sala-Vila, lead author on the paper and researcher at the Institut Hospital del Mar d'Investigacions Mèdiques–Barcelona in a statement. “Paying close attention to the amount of ALA in the blood and how it affects heart health could help in this effort.”