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Fish Oil: Omega-3 - What else can it do?

Lynne Brown
BSc Hons, HDE, Dip Clin Nutr

Fish oil and Rheumatoid Arthritis

In a study done by Cleland and James,  Omega-3 fish oils, at 2-3 g per day, were shown to reduce joint pain and morning stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, thus lessening their need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other RA medications.

They also noted other benefits that fish oil delivers to patients with RA: Many with RA are at high cardiovascular risk and Omega-3 fats can lower this risk. The drugs used for patients with RA can compound the risk of heart disease or increase blood clotting and blood pressure all of which can be reduced by Omega-3 fats.

Benefits asthmatics too

Fish oil reduces inflammation in the lungs and has been used effectively to treat asthma.
Tests done on children have been especially successful.
Athletes who experience shortness of breath and other asthma-like symptoms after exercise have also shown a decrease in bronchial constriction when using fish oil capsules. I have also read of emphysema patients who have been taken off oxygen after a few weeks on high-dose fish oil. Maybe emphysema is not as irreversible as we are lead to believe?

Fish oil and depression

The fatty material that makes up our brain tissue is composed of Omega-3 fatty acids, and studies have shown that supplementing can ease depression.
Researchers at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, confirmed that a low intake of Omega-3 fatty acids may be at the root of depression, especially among older people

Fish oil and pregnancy

Dr Barry Sears, author of “The Omega-3 RX Zone”, states that Omega-3 fats are the most important supplement a pregnant women can take to improve the brain development of the foetus.

In pregnancy, Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oils, especially DHA are transported from mother to baby in order to be used for the development of the baby’s brain and retinas.
A woman planning to become pregnant should, ideally, start supplementing with fish oil before she conceives. Then she is assured of taking in sufficient DHA during the first 2-5 weeks of pregnancy when the brain and other organs of the foetus are formed, usually before she is even aware that she is pregnant. However it is never too late in pregnancy to start with Omega-3 supplementation, together with a very good pregnancy-supporting multivitamin and mineral supplement.

Fish oil and infants

Fish oil plays a key role in brain development. In a Scottish study conducted with young children, fish oil improved cognitive and visual skills, making them smarter than kids who did not use it.

Conversely, Omega-3 deficiencies or imbalances have been associated with childhood developmental and psychiatric disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and autistic spectrum disorders.

Inflammatory bowel diseases

Two of the most common inflammatory conditions that occur in the gut are Crohn’s disease (inflammation of the small intestine) and Ulcerative Colitis (inflammation that can occur throughout the gastrointestinal tract) and those who suffer from these conditions know that the pain can be intense. The good news is that fish oil can significantly reduce this pain as well as prevent inflammation, thus reducing the rate of relapses.

In general, wherever there is pain and inflammation, fish oil should be given a chance, and this can be done safely without the fear of toxicity.

Omega 3 versus Omega 6

When it comes to essential fatty acids or EFAs, Omega-3 and Omega-6 are the ones most talked about and many supplements contain both. Since Omega-3 fats are found mainly in cold-water fish and flaxseeds, our dietary intake of Omega-3 is usually low. However Omega-6 fatty acids are abundant in soy, corn, safflower, and sunflower oil and margarine and hence most processed foods, so the typical Western diet is awash with Omega-6 already and supplementation is usually not necessary. In fact, in a typical Western diet the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is estimated to be around 20:1 which is way too high. A diet too high in Omega-6 can result in inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. The key to benefits from supplementation with fish oil is to limit the intake of Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet so that the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is nearly equal.

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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