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Fish Oil: Omega-3 - Fats that heal.

Lynne Brown
BSc Hons, HDE, Dip Clin Nutr

If you keep up with the latest health news, you probably can't help noticing that the buzzword these days is “omega-3 fatty acids”. Evidence is piling up that these healthy fats, which are particularly abundant in fish, are good for your heart, your mind, and, well, just about every system in the body.

Where to find it?

The two most common sources of Omega-3 oils is from flaxseeds or from fatty, cold water fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna and herring.  Some people are able to utilise flaxseed oil, but they need to be young, in perfect health and have no shortage of an enzyme (commonly deficient) called delta-6 desaturase, to be able to convert the omega-3 fraction of the oil into usable EPA and DHA.  If they don’t, this could well become an inflammatory agent in the body. So it makes much more sense to use fish oil all round since it is already in the usable form and no conversion is necessary. (The term Fish Oils is also used as a collective term for Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) )

Fishing for heart health

Studies show that the fish oil offers several kinds of heart protection: In the New England Journal of Medicine (May 9 1986), Dr Beverley Philipson and colleagues at the Oregon Health Sciences University reported that a high fish oil diet profoundly lowered both cholesterol (27-45%) and triglycerides (64-79%) in patients with hyperlipidemia. Vegetable oils had no such effect!”  A recent study showed that people who took an omega-3 supplement right before eating a fatty meal had less of a triglyceride surge after the meal than those who didn't, making it probably the best “medicine” available to prevent sudden cardiac death. Other studies have shown that recommended doses can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 32% and reduce deaths from heart attack by 70%. Other evidence supports yet another mechanism - an "anti-arrhythmic effect," meaning that it reduces the occurrence of irregular heartbeats. Scientists think fish oil may help regulate the heartbeat by reducing the production of thromboxane A2, a substance that promotes clotting and blood vessel constriction.  It has also been shown that fish oils help prevent/treat atherosclerosis by slowing the growth of plaque build-up in the arteries and at just 3 grams per day, help to prevent abnormal blood clotting (by lowering plasma fibrinogen levels). Fish oils also decrease the viscosity (thickness) of the blood and help to lower blood pressure in hypertension patients.

Women’s heart health

A study examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on women's heart health. Analyzing 16 years of data, collected from more than 120,000 women in the Nurses' Health Study, researchers found that women in the group with the highest omega-3 intake had about half the risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to women in the group with the lowest intake. Why are omega-3s so heart healthy? The answer lies partly in their anti-inflammatory activities. Harvard University researchers recently linked the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids with lower levels of markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP).

Fish oil and cancer

Anyone interested in nutrition has heard that omega-3 fats reduce the rate of cancer and that it is actually the EPA and DHA that do the heavy lifting for cancer prevention. Regular consumption of fish oil helps to prevent breast, colon and prostate cancer, inhibit the further growth and metastasis of these cancers if they already exist, and prolong survival in these cancer patients. It has also been shown to prolong survival in lung cancer patients and inhibits the further spread of lymphomas, thus increasing the  period of remission. Interestingly, omega-3 fats from fish, inhibit cancer cell proliferation in prostate tissue whereas omega-3 fat or alpha linolenic acid (ALA) from plant & seed sources such as flaxseeds has been shown to stimulate cancer in the prostate. For this reason many scientists believe that men should not be using flaxseed oil in any quantities.

Fish oil and the brain

 French scientists say they have discovered how omega-3 fats from fish oil work to protect against certain neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, depression and stroke caused by clotting of brain blood vessels, thus supporting a number of studies that have demonstrated the positive impact of omega-3 fatty acids on brain health. People who eat oily fish or take fish oil supplements score 13 per cent higher in IQ tests and are less likely to show early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study in Scotland.

Supplementing with fish oil

A deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids may result in bleeding gums, dry eyes, poor memory, poor wound healing, eczema, arthritis, weight gain, diabetes, ADHD and dyslexia. Your body can’t make it so you do need to take it! The easiest way to increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is by increasing your intake of coldwater fish. However, with the disturbing reports we're hearing these days about mercury levels in fish, supplementing with fish oil might be the safest way to go. Unfortunately, some fish oil supplements can also contain traces of mercury, PCB’s and DDT. Only pharmaceutical grade fish oil that's been molecularly distilled will not contain these pollutants.

Fish oil, in my opinion, is the best and only choice you can make regarding omega-3 fatty acids.

Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional.  All serious disease needs a physician.

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