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Why Your Body Needs Omega-3s
5/29/2003
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Fish fats enhance health and counter diverse diseases
by Craig Weatherby


Wild Sockeye salmon is a pure, natural source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. Each 3.5 oz serving contains a minimum of 1.2 grams of EPA and DHA. —Vital nutrients proven in clinical studies to promote optimal health and to prevent or ameliorate numerous adverse health conditions. How can fat be healthful?

Recent media reports highlight a sea change in attitudes toward dietary fat, and research findings that place fish and seafood at the center of any healthy eating strategy. Once shunned as the source of obesity and heart disease, dietary fats now enjoy a healthier reputation than dietary carbohydrates. When fat was dietary enemy number one, manufacturers responded by replacing it in foods with salt and sugars—a move designed to distract consumers’ fat-addicted palates.

But excess dietary sugars and starches are as unhealthful as excess fat. Research findings cast excessive sugars and refined starches—such as pasta, white bread, pastries, potatoes, fruit juice, sodas, and sweets—as prime promoters of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Each of these conditions is associated with chronic internal inflammation—a cycle exacerbated and perhaps initiated by excessive dietary carbohydrates that can be reduced by eating foods rich in antioxidants (e.g., green vegetables) and Omega-3 fatty acids. And, obesity research studies seem to support the efficacy of low-carbohydrate diets.

The richest sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish like salmon and herring. While other types of Omega-3s are found in canola, flax, and hemp seed oils, studies suggest that these plant-source Omega-3s do not produce health benefits equal to those seen from even smaller quantities of the seafood-derived Omega-3s known as EPA and DHA. But people in the U.S. and other developed countries do not consume near enough Omega-3s of any type, compared with officially recommended intake levels.

Omega-3s and Heart Health
  • People with heart disease who eat fish or fish oil high in Omega-3s at least twice a week reduce their chance of dying suddenly by 20 percent or more.

  • Eating fish regularly improves the pattern of lipids in the blood and reduces the likelihood of developing fatal blood clots in the heart.

  • People with Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes also benefit from eating rich fish regularly, without putting their blood sugar control at risk. Type 2 diabetics who eat rich fish often have as much as half the risk of sudden death as Type 2 diabetics who do not eat rich fish.

  • Eating rich fish at least once a week may reduce the risk of stroke and may modestly reduce blood pressure.

  • Eating rich fish regularly may improve vascular function and blood circulation, especially in the extremities and internal organs.

Essential to Infant Development
  • DHA—an Omega-3 fatty acid found only in seafood and algae—is necessary for optimum development of the eye, brain and nervous system of the fetus. Nursing mothers who consume DHA-rich fish promote optimum development of the infant's brain, eyes, and nervous system, and recent research indicates that dietary supplementation with DHA during pregnancy and nursing boosts children's performance on intelligence tests.
Anti-Cancer Effects. Recent findings from cancer research suggest that omega-3s may be important in discouraging the development or spread of certain cancers, especially breast, prostate, and probably colon cancer.

Bone Health. Canned salmon is one of the most calcium-rich, non-dairy foods. One 3-1/2 oz. serving with the bones contains two thirds as much calcium as a cup of milk. Consuming plenty of calcium is important, especially for women, to build and maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of bone fracture later in life. The delicate, edible bones present in canned wild salmon are readily digested and rich in calcium and magnesium.

Inflammatory/Immune Disorders. When Omega-3s are consumed in large amounts for several months, they have been found helpful in several autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and asthma. Omega-3s do not prevent or cure these conditions, but they may make the symptoms less severe and less painful.

Emerging Benefits. Although research in these areas needs further verification, omega-3s may reduce the severity or development of hypertension, nephritis, migraine, Alzheimer's disease and Type 1 diabetes, and may reduce the severity of depression and bipolar disorder.

Heart-Healthy Protein Source. In addition to Omega-3s, salmon is a high quality, heart-safe source of easy-to-digest protein. It’s also a heart-healthier alternative source of vitamin B12, which most people get from eating meats.


Sources
  • Helland IB, et al. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):e39-44.

  • Rose DP, Connolly JM. Omega-3 fatty acids as cancer chemopreventive agents. Pharmacol Ther. 1999 Sep;83(3):217-44. Review.

  • Mischoulon D, Fava M. Docosahexanoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids in depression. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2000 Dec;23(4):785-94. Review.

  • Harris WS, Park Y, Isley WL. Cardiovascular disease and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2003 Feb;14(1):9-14.

  • Sirtori CR, Galli C. N-3 fatty acids and diabetes. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):397-406.

  • Albertazzi P, Coupland K. Polyunsaturated fatty acids. Is there a role in postmenopausal osteoporosis prevention? Maturitas. 2002 May 20;42(1):13-22. Review.

  • Ergas D, Eilat E, Mendlovic S, Sthoeger ZM. n-3 fatty acids and the immune system in autoimmunity. Isr Med Assoc J. 2002 Jan;4(1):34-8. Review.

  • Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 Fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505.

  • Forsyth JS et al. Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in infant formula and blood pressure in later childhood: follow up of a randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2003;326:953 (3 May)
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