Essential Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
Scientists noticed a curiously low incidence of heart disease among Greenland Eskimos, despite their high-fat diet. The reason? They were eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Later studies confirmed their cardioprotective effect of fish oils while uncovering other benefits as well.
What they are
The fat in fish includes a form of polyunsaturated fatty acids called omega-3s. These differ from the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in vegetable oils (called omega-6s) and they have different effects on the body. (fish don’t manufacture such fats but get them from the plankton they eat – the colder the water, the more omega-3s the plankton contains.)
The two most potentforms of omega-3s, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), are found in abundance in cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackeral and tuna (including, to a limited extent, the canned variety). The sources of a third type of omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), are certain vegetable oils (such as flaxseed oil) and leafy, fleshy greens (such as purslane). However, ALA doesn’t affect the body in the same way as EPA and DHA.
What they do
Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in a range of vital body processes, from regulating blood pressure and blood clotting to reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system. They may be useful for preventing or treating many conditions.
Fish oils appear to reduce the risk of heart disease in several ways. Most importantly, the presence of omega-3s makes platelets in the blood less likely to clump together and form the clots that lead to heart attacks. Next, omega-3s can reduce triglycerides (blood fats related to cholesterol) and may lower blood pressure.
In addition, recent research has shown that omega-3s strengthen the heart’s electrical system, preventing heart-rhythm abnormalities. However, the strongest evidence for the cardiovascular benefits of fish oils comes from studies in which the participants ate fish rather than taking fish oil supplements.
Within the artery walls, omega-3s inhibit inflammation, which is a factor in plaque build-up. As a result, therapeutic doses of fish oils are one of the few successful ways to prevent the reblockage of arteries that commonly occrs after angioplasty, in which a small balloon is guided through an artery to a blockage and them inflated to compress plaque, widen the vessel and improve blood flow to the heart. This effect on blood vessels makes fish oils helpful for Raynaud’s disease as well.
Oemga-3s are also effective general anti-inflammatories, useful for joint problems, lupus and psoriasis. Studies indicate that people with rheumatoid arthritis experience less joint swellings and stiffness when they take fish oil supplements, and may even be able to manage on lower doses of anti-inflammatory drugs.
In a year-long study of people suffering from Crohn’s disease (a painful type of inflammatory bowel disease), 69% of those taking enteric-coated fish oil supplements (about 3 g of fish oils a day) satyed symptom-free, compared with just 28% of those receiving a placebo. Fish oil may also help to ease menstrual cramps.
In addition, omega-3s may play a role in mental health. Some experts believe there’s a correlation between the increasing incidence of depression in many western countries an the declining consumpton of fish. And a preliminary US study suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the severity of schizophrenia by about 25%.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been used to alleviate symptoms of asthma and eczema.
- Help to prevent cardiovascular disease; useful for other circulatory conditions as well.
- Block disease-related inflammatory responses in the body.
- May lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
How to take them
For heart disease, Raynaud’s disease, lupus and psoriasis: take 3000 mg of fish oils a day.
For rheumatoid arthritis: Take 6000 mg a day. For inflammatory bowel disease: Take 5000 mg a day.
Guidelines for use
Fish oil supplements are recommended for heart disease prevention even if you eat fish a few times per week.
Natural medicine supplementation is also recommended for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Try to take capsules with meals. Supplements may be easier to tolerate if you take them in divided doses; for example, 1000 mg three times a day instead of 3000 mg in one sitting.
Possible side effects
Fish oil capsules may cause belching, flatulence, bloating, nausea and diarrhoea. Very high doses may result in a slightly fishy body odour. But this can be avoided by using a better quality product such as those listed in the right column of this page.
Heart disease among the Eskimos people of Greenland is almost unknown, despite the high rate of fat in their diet. Scientific studies have now shown that it is the type of fat which is important.
Fish oils, from the seafood that is the basis of the Eskimo diet, are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which act to protect the heart.
Studies are showing that these essential fatty acids have other important benefits to human health.
An essential fatty acid, the oil obtained from the Flaxseed plant is an excellent source of omega-3's. Flaxseed is derived from a plant source which makes it an ideal choice for vegetarians or people who don't tolerate seafood. Indeed it is an excellent food for everyone.About Flaxseed oil
The Flaxseed plant has been used to make linen fibre since ancient times, and the oil has been used for healing for almost as long. Balms made from a slurry of the seeds were used sooth inflamed skin and for constipation. Also known as linseed, the oil from the seeds is rich in essential fatty acids and is now used to treat a wide range of ailments, such as lupus (skin rash) to heart disease.
What it does
This an important article for all those who take statin drugs. Results of the Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS), firstpresented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions,have been published.
Statin drugs are sold under a variety of names including Lipitor (atorvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin) and Pravachol (pravastatin). If you take one of these drugs, you should also use a fish oil to reduce your chance of a ‘major coronary event’.
Grandma was 100% right. Fish really is "brain food". Due to its rich omega-3 content, and high quality protein, selenium and vitamin B12 content and potent levels of iron, zinc and iodine, fish really is a 'cut' above other meats.
We should all try to boost the amount of fish we eat every week, and supplement daily with fish oil. We've seen the ads, and heard the research – now find out why we should follow this advice.
The clinical uses of omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 FAs) include treatment of hypertrglyceridaemia, use in statin-treated patients with elevated triaclyglycerol (TG) concentrations or non-HDL (high-denisty lipoprotein) cholesterol (mixed hyperlipidaemia), and use in the secondary and primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.
A recent pooled meta-analysis with multiple doses of n-3 FAs ranging from 0.8-5.4/g revealed highly significant (p<0.001) changes in TG, HDL cholesetrol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (see Table 1).
This review highlights the evidence to support the cardiovascular benefits provided by omega-3 fatty acids. For those with known coronary artery disease (CAD) the target DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) consumption level is approximately 1g/d and at least 500mg/d for those without disease.
Patients with hypertriglyceridaemia may benefit from treatment with 3-4g/d of DHA and EPA, a dosage that lowers triglyceride levels by 20-50%. Combination therapy with omega-3 fatty acids and a statin is a safe and effective way to improve lipid levels and cardiovascular prognosis beyong the benefits provided by statin therapy alone.
With new technologies, blood DHA and EPA levels can now be used to identify patients with deficient levels and to indivualise therapeutic recommendations. Click here to read more about this exciting new technology.
One of the most common questions we get asked is “Why should I spend more on fish oil from you, when I can get a cheaper version from the chemist?”
The answer is not as simple as just cost.
When you walk into any chemist, pharmacy or even supermarket, you will see the shelves littered with many different brands of fish oils, often carrying ‘budget’ and ‘value’ stickers that make them seem like value for money. Really, 300 capsules for $9.95 is a bargain, right?
WRONG! These budget brands could actually be doing you more harm than good. And here’s why.
If you’re a regular to Emed, you would’ve heard us talking about the amazing benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
An increasing amount of evidence indicates that these healthy fats can prevent a wide range of medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, arthritis, inflammation and even depression.
With all the attention being on a ‘low-fat’ diet,some may wonder why ingesting plenty of ‘fatty acids’ can be a good thing. So why are omega-3 fatty acids so good for you? And is fish oil the only source?
The Prince Alfred Hospital in Melbourne has just completed a trial showing that important vitamins, minerals and nutrients, including Bioceuticals EPA/DHA is effective for the management of heart disease.
Supplementation with magnesium, omega-3, CoQ10 and antioxidants provided study participants with a 50% reduction in heart arrthymias and heart failure. This new research shows that appropriate nutritional medicine could represent a saving to the hospital of up to $4800 per patient.
Not bad for ‘snake oil’.
Simply having four capsules of fish oil a day can double the effects of statin therapy, according to a recent Korean study.
Researchers gave 62 patients 2g of omega-3 fatty acids, twice a day, with 20mg of Simvastatin, or the Simvastatin treatment alone. All of the subjects were put on a low cholesterol diet.
After six weeks. the omega-3 plus Statin combination was able to lower triglyceride levels by 41%, whereas the statins alone reduced these levels by only 13.9%.
The combination therapy also produced significant reductions in low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Women who take fish oil during pregnancy may give birth to children with improved hand-eye coordination, language skills and behaviour, an Australian study has suggested.
The positive effects of omega-3’s for cognitive development and learning difficulties has been well documented, and this research adds to the expanding list of benefits fish oil has for practically everyone.
At the Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct at the Alfred Hospital, Victoria, a combination of UltraClean EPA/DHA Plus and CardioNutrients is providing benefits for surgical recovery in two trials led by Professor Franklin Rosenfeldt.
Those who received the active treatment (a combination of BioCeuticals UltraClean EPA/DHA Plus and CardioNutrients) were able to leave hospital sooner after surgery than those in the placebo group.
The results show patients generally leave hospital post-surgery 1.3 days earlier.
The surgery cost was also reduced by $3264 per patient, if supplemented with BioCeuticals CardioNutrients and UltraClean EPA/DHA Plus pre-surgery.
As the Southern Hemisphere hurtles towards the winter months and cold and flu season again, a new trial has found that fish oils may play an important role in maintaining healthy immune function.
While the role of fish oils (particularly EPA and DHA omega 3 fatty acids contained in fish oils) in reducing inflammation is well known, information on the immunological effects of these fats is currently quite limited.
This research opens the door for a new application of these health-promoting fats.
When you think about protecting your skin so it can remain radiant for years in the future, fish oil probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But omega-3 is a wonderful way to keep your body’s biggest organ in tip-top shape.
So, if you want your skin to defy aging, make fish oil part of your solution.
Many of us drink more alcohol than we would like to admit, particularly on the weekend or after a long and stressful day at work.
It may be a socially acceptable habit, but heavy alcohol consumption can cause serious cognitive impairment through its neurotoxic effects.
Emed explores the newest research on fish oil supplementation as a way to protect the brain from alcohol-induced damage.