Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil


Along with boosting your brain power, fish oil may improve your mood and might also play a role in treating depression and other mental disorders, reports Arjuna Natural Extracts

The considerable health benefits of fish oil were first discovered back in the early 1970s when doctors in Denmark studied Eskimos living in Greenland. They noticed that the Eskimos had fewer cardiovascular diseases and their incidence rate of arthritis was much less compared with the Danes, despite the fact that the Eskimos ate a fat-rich diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids have attained an almost magical status when it comes to cardiovascular health

Further studies have revealed that the health benefits of fish oil derive from two omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). But, despite the growing evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish boast a bevy of health benefits, most Americans still don’t include enough fish in their daily diets because of serious concerns about contaminants, especially mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Hence, many are inclined to buy fish oil supplements instead.

Fish oil benefits

What makes these omega-3s important? It’s because they’re essential. Why are they considered to be essential? Even though they are required for good health, the body can’t synthesise these compounds as it does other fatty acids. We have to get them directly from the foods that we eat.

Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fish with a high oil content, such as sardines, tuna, etc. Sardine is considered to be 'the best' because sardines are short lived and don’t survive long enough to accumulate toxic chemicals. These essential fatty acids (EFAs) have potent properties to quell inflammation, support a healthy heart and avoid blood clots and clogged arteries. Omega-6 fatty acids, however, are obtained from oils in seeds and grains such as sunflower, safflower, wheat, corn and soy. Omega-6s are important for stimulating skin health and hair growth, maintaining bone health and regulating metabolism.

Both of these EFAs are important to good health — but only if consumed in the right ratio. Many years ago, people ate equal amounts of these two types of fatty acids. But, today, people focus too much on omega-6 fatty acids and not enough on omega-3s — an imbalance that may contribute to chronic health problems. A well-balanced diet should consist of roughly one omega-3 fatty acid to four omega-6 fatty acids. This is easily accomplished by eating fish once or twice a week and taking a daily fish oil supplement.

Metabolism and effects

What happens to omega-3s and omega-6s after they have been consumed? Once in the body, EFAs break down to form eicosanoids — hormone-like substances that regulate important bodily functions, including the nervous system, immune response, blood pressure, heart rate, blood-vessel constriction and clotting. Omega-3 fatty acids produce eicosanoids that prevents coagulation and reduce the immune response. This results in less clotting and inflammation, which is good for the heart as well as for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation as they convert arachidonic acid into prostaglandins and leukotrienes (although this can be a good thing if you are sick or injured).

Pregnancy: Expectant mothers have a special need for omega-3s. Researchers have discovered that a pregnant woman who supplements with omega-3 fatty acids has less risk of premature delivery. Their babies are also more likely to be born at a healthier weight.

Cardiovascular: Omega-3 fatty acids have attained an almost magical status when it comes to cardiovascular health. Fish oil is so heart healthy that people in Europe who have suffered a heart attack are instructed to take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement when they are released from the hospital. Most recent studies show that people who eat fish at least once a week have a lower risk of heart disease than those who rarely eat fish. Blood pressure naturally goes up as you age and the arteries become less elastic. Fortunately, omega-3 fatty acids can help you maintain normal blood pressure.

Cholesterol: Numerous studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can lower triglyceride levels. In fact, for people with very high triglyceride levels, 2–4 g of DHA plus EPA a day is recommended. Supplementing with fish oil can give your HDL, the good cholesterol, levels a boost. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t just increase good cholesterol; they also inhibit the synthesis of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol in the liver.

VLDL is particularly damaging because it contains high levels of triglycerides and contributes to the buildup of cholesterol on the walls of arteries. But there is some evidence that taking DHA and EPA can lower VLDL levels.

Cognition: Research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that DHA may also improve cognitive function and memory by suppressing inflammation and oxidative damage in the brain. Conventional medicine is unable to cure or control Alzheimer’s — there is no effective cure for the disease. People afflicted with Alzheimer’s gradually lose their cognitive ability as their brain cells are destroyed.

In the end stages of the disease, patients become completely disoriented and must rely on caregivers for even their most basic functions. Omega-3 fatty acids, however, may have a protective effect against the ravages of Alzheimer’s. It has been shown that DHA helps to guard against the accumulation of tau, a protein involved in the development of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs).

A growing number of studies suggest a link between a higher incidence of depression and decreased omega-3 consumption

Along with boosting your brain power, fish oil may improve your mood and might also play a role in treating depression and other mental disorders. A growing number of studies suggest a link between a higher incidence of depression and decreased omega-3 consumption. Age Related Macula Degeneration (ARMD) is a degenerative retinal disease. The macula — the area at the back of the retina that controls fine vision — deteriorates, resulting in central vision loss and even blindness. High intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of ARMD.

To put it in a nutshell, omega-3 offers a range of benefits. It comprises a class of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids obtained primarily from fish oils. DHA is one of most important omega-3 fatty acids and is a major component of brain and eye tissues. The omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in reducing the incidence of CVD, cancer, mental disorders such as attention deficit disorder, bipolar disease, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, omega-3 fatty acids perform many biological functions that can benefit the heart and blood vessels. They can inhibit the synthesis of substances that promote inflammation, reduce the tendency of the blood to form clots, stabilise the electrical activity of the heart, lower triglyceride levels, moderately reduce blood pressure and improve the function of artery linings. These findings prompted the American Heart Association to recommend including fatty fish such as sardines in our weekly menus.

Finally, it should be noted that although fish is an important part of the Inuit (Eskimo) diet, which contains high levels of fats, this does not increase the incidence of CVD among these people. Now, a Tel Aviv University researcher has revealed that it has a positive effect on bedsores, too; the results of which are reported in the British Journal of Nutrition and the American Journal of Critical Care.