Omega 3’s are a special type of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). They are known as one of the “good”fats. The most important components of Omega 3 are commonly known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid), all of which are found naturally in the human body at birth.
Benefits of Omega 3
Preliminary research suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplements (in the form of perilla seed oil, which is rich in ALA) may decrease inflammation and improve lung function in adults with asthma. Omega-6 fatty acids have the opposite effect: they tend to increase inflammation and worsen respiratory function. In a small, well-designed study of 29 children with asthma, those who took fish oil supplements rich in EPA and DHA for 10 months had improvement in their symptoms compared to children who took a placebo pill.
Low levels of Omega-3’s have been linked to neurological problems such as depression in adults and behavior problems in children. Other studies are examining the role of Omega-3’s in the loss of short-term memory linked to aging, as well as infant brain development.
Consuming significant amounts of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. For example, Eskimos, who tend to follow a high fat diet but eat significant amounts of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, have a low rate of colorectal cancer. Animal studies and laboratory studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids prevent worsening of colon cancer while omega-6 fatty acids promote the growth of colon tumors. Daily consumption of EPA and DHA also appeared to slow or even reverse the progression of colon cancer in people with early stages of the disease.
Although not all experts agree, women who regularly consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids over many years may be less likely to develop breast cancer. In addition, the risk of dying from breast cancer may be significantly less for those who eat large quantities of omega-3 from fish and brown kelp seaweed (common in Japan). This is particularly true among women who substitute fish for meat. The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids appears to play an important role in the development and growth of breast cancer. Further research is still needed to understand the effect that omega-3 fatty acids may have on the prevention or treatment of breast cancer.
Heart and Strokes
This is the best-established biological effect of Omega-3’s. Hypertriglyceridemia, or a level of triglycerides that exceeds recommended levels, is a recognized risk factor for heart disease. Relatively low amounts of Omega-3’s have been shown to achieve a significant reduction in triglyceride levels.
2- Cardiovascular disease:
Interest in Omega-3’s was spurred by observations that heart disease is rare in populations that consume high levels of fish and marine animals. Many clinical studies have shown that a diet supplemented by fish or fish oil creates a beneficial effect, with Omega-3’s influencing risk factors or mortality from cardiovascular disease. Some studies have shown contradictory results, however, which may be due to variations in the amount of Omega-3’s consumed and other variables. Scientists continue to study the actual amount of Omega-3’s required to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
3- Sudden cardiac death:
Animal studies have shown that Omega-3’s may have great promise for the prevention of cardiac arrhythmia and death due to sudden cardiac arrest. The use of Omega-3’s for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia in humans is now being observed.
4- Platelet function:
Omega-3’s have been shown to have an antithrombotic effect on platelet function, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. In other words, they thin the blood and make it less likely to form clots in the heart or blood vessels. This is similar to the anti-thrombotic effect linked to aspirin. It has been suggested that fish oil could be used instead of, or in conjunction with, aspirin.
5- Lowering High Cholesterol:
As almost everyone knows these days, high levels of fat in the blood (as measured by triglycerides and cholesterol) is one of the major indicators of cardiovascular problems. However, what most people do not know is that a large number of nutrients have been scientifically shown to lower cholesterol to normal levels. These nutrients all play a natural role in the body’s handling of fats. However, due to a variety of reasons ranging from genetic differences and unbalanced diets to growing older, some people need more of these nutrients than they can get from their food. Supplementing with these nutrients has often produced amazing results.
Many people who are overweight suffer from poor blood sugar control, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Studies suggest that overweight people who follow a weight loss program including exercise tend to achieve better control over their blood sugar and cholesterol levels when fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, mackerel, and herring) is a staple in their low fat diet.
High Blood Pressure
Several studies suggest that diets and/or supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure significantly in people with hypertension. Fish high in mercury (such as tuna) should be avoided, however, because they may increase blood pressure.
Immune Function & Inflammation
Many studies have reported an improvement in symptoms and some have even indicated that dosages of antiinflammatory drugs could be reduced in some patients with conditions such as arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, gingivitis and Crohn’s disease. In general, large intakes of Omega-3’s are required for relatively modest improvements. Omega-3’s continue to be examined for their potential to reduce dosages of anti-inflammatory drugs with undesirable side effects.
Two studies have shown that Omega-3’s have a beneficial effect on menstrual pain and cramps. Two studies have shown a beneficial effect on menstrual pain and cramps by omega-3 fatty acids. An epidemiological study in Danish women found a highly significant correlation between menstrual pain and the intake of omega-3 fatty acids (Deutch, 1996). Four day dietary records were used to obtain information on nutrient intakes of 20-45 year old women who were not pregnant or on oral contraceptive. Low intakes of fish and omega-3 fatty acids and a low dietary n-3/n-6 ratio were significantly correlated with the incidence of dysmenorrhea or menstrual pain.
Since 1987, laboratory studies have repeatedly illustrated that DHA and EPA slow or arrest the growth of human prostate cancer cells. Researchers showed that this growth arrest is associated with decreased conversion of arachidonic acid to its potentially damaging metabolites. This past year, a very important clinical study published by the group at the Harvard School of Public Health examined the link between dietary fish consumption and the risk of metastatic prostate cancer (Augustsson, et al). This paper reported results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study that involved 47,882 men over twelve years. During the twelve years, 2,483 cases of prostate cancer were identified. Of these, 617 were advanced and 278 were metastatic.
Although, there has been some controversy regarding the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in diabetes, scientific experts and research studies appear to support the use of fish oil supplementation for patients with type 2 diabetes, suggesting a positive effect on triglyceride levels and no adverse effect on glycemic control.
Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA help increase levels of calcium in the body, deposit calcium in the bones, and improve bone strength. In addition, studies also suggest that people who are deficient in certain essential fatty acids (particularly EPA and gamma-linolenic acid [GLA], an omega-6 fatty acid) are more likely to suffer from bone loss than those with normal levels of these fatty acids. In a study of women over 65 with osteoporosis, those given EPA and GLA supplements experienced significantly less bone loss over three years than those who were given a placebo. Many of these women also experienced an increase in bone density.
Studies of large groups of people have found that the more omega-3 fatty acids people consume, the lower their overall blood pressure level is. This was the case with the Greenland Eskimos who ate a lot of oily, cold-water fish, for example.
The brain is remarkably fatty: In fact, this organ is 60% fat and needs omega-3s to function properly. Now researchers have discovered a link between mood disorders and the presence of low concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
Apparently, omega-3s help regulate mental health problems because they enhance the ability of brain-cell receptors to comprehend mood-related signals from other neurons in the brain. In other words, the omega-3s are believed to help keep the brain’s entire traffic pattern of thoughts, reactions, and reflexes running smoothly and efficiently.