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Omega 3 Info

Fish oil pill or tablet

We have all heard that fish and particularly oily fish is good for you, but can you get the same health benefits from taking a fish oil pill or tablet as you can from eating fresh fish? The simple answer is yes, if you choose a high quality fish oil.

Fish oil extracted from the fatty tissue of oily fish contains very high quantities of the essential Omega 3 fatty acids EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA docosahexaenoic acid.  These fatty acids are essential for our health and wellbeing and yet the body cannot synthesise them by itself, it has to obtain them from dietary sources, either by eating fresh fish or by taking fish oil supplements.

Cod liver oil on the other hand, is extracted from the liver of the fish.  Although also high in the Omega 3 fatty acids, this oil contains high levels of vitamin A and vitamin D.  Vitamin A helps to fight infection and is good for night vision, and vitamin D is particularly important for those living in the Northern Hemisphere where there is not much sunlight.  The danger here is vitamin toxicity. It is possible to exceed the recommended daily allowance for these vitamins leading to vitamin overdose as they can accumulate to unhealthy levels in the body.  The only way to find out would be to have your GP check your levels. Consequently, some people like to take cod liver oil in the winter when there is not much sunlight around and then switch to fish oil in the summer.

There has also been a lot of concern about dangerous levels of mercury, dioxins, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other toxins found in fresh fish. The current recommendation is to eat at least two portions of fish a week but no more than four.  Not all fish carry the same risk, for example mercury can be found in high levels in fish at the top of the food chain such as Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish.  It can also be present in Tuna and in somewhat lower levels in Salmon.

One way to avoid the risk of harmful toxins and yet still gain all the health benefits of eating fish, is to take fish oil supplements.  Fish oil pills are made from fish, so an important consideration when purchasing a fish oil is its purity. It is possible today to get pharmaceutical grade fish oil that has been subjected to intensive purification processes.  This means that the oil is safe and pure, allowing you to gain all the benefits of the fish oil without the risk of exposure to harmful toxins.

Arthritis fish oil

Arthritis is characterised by a collection of symptoms, which include inflammation, painful joints and stiffness.  Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic auto-immune disease that is extremely painful and can lead to severe disability.  Osteoarthritis can be described as wear and tear of the joints with a resulting loss of cartilage.

Numerous studies have found that fish oil can improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by significantly reducing inflammation and in some cases, even lessen the need for NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Similarly with osteoarthritis, studies have found that fish oil suppresses the action of cartilage destroying enzymes.

Fish oil contains the essential Omega 3 fatty acids (EFAs) that are found in high quantities in oily fish such as Salmon, Tuna, Sardines and Mackerel. They are essential in that the body cannot survive without them, yet cannot produce them itself; we can only source them from the diet. Most of us simply do not get enough of the Omega 3 fatty acids.

Traditionally, man ate a diet that was equally divided between Omega 3 and Omega 6 on an equal ratio of 1:1.  Now, the ratio is more like 25:1 in favour of Omega 6. There is a substantial amount of research indicating that it is this imbalance of Omega 3’s to Omega 6 fats in our diets that are mainly responsible for the higher incidence of inflammatory diseases, cancers and allergies that we see today.

The Omega 6 fatty acids are also essential, but are easy to obtain, they can be found in cooking oils, such as corn oil and sunflower oil, and in processed foods and convenience foods. They promote inflammation in the body and help the blood to clot.  The Omega 3’s do exactly the opposite; they have anti-inflammatory properties and help to thin the blood.

Clinical trials have reported that after taking fish oil for 12 weeks, patients found that their symptoms of arthritis improved, with less inflammation, pain and stiffness.  Furthermore, those taking fish oil for longer than 12 weeks found they had an increase in grip strength.

As there is some evidence that Rheumatoid Arthritis is the result of oxidative stress on the body, and fish oil is very prone to oxidation, it is particularly important to choose a high quality fish oil containing a powerful antioxidant such as vitamin E.

Fish Oil and Arthritis Studies

David A Hughes and Andrew C Pinder were the principal researchers in the study titled n-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids inhibit the antigen-presenting function of human monocytes. They conducted their research at the Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich, and Norfolk. This research was published in December of 2004.

Researchers evaluated that diets rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are associated with suppression of cell-mediated immune responses, but the mechanisms are unclear. They hypothesized that n-3 PUFAs can inhibit the function of human antigen-presenting cells. A prerequisite for this role of blood monocytes is the cell surface expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules [human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR, -DP, and -DQ], aided by the presence of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and leukocyte function associated antigens 1 and 3.

It was shown previously that the n-3 PUFA eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) inhibits the expression of HLA-DR on unstimulated human monocytes in vitro, but that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) enhances its expression. However, both n-3 PUFAs suppress the expression of HLA-DR, HLA-DP, and ICAM-1 on interferon- -activated monocytes. They also established that dietary fishoil supplementation can inhibit the expression of these surface molecules on circulating human monocytes.

We subsequently showed that when EPA and DHA were combined in the same ratio as is commonly found in fishoil-supplement capsules (3:2), there was no significant effect in vitro on the expression of HLA-DR on unstimulated monocytes, but the expression on activated monocytes remained significantly inhibited. In the same in vitro system, the ability of activated monocytes to present antigen to autologous lymphocytes was significantly reduced after culture with the combined n-3 PUFAs.

These findings provide one potential mechanism for the beneficial effect of fish oil in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, a disorder associated with elevated _expression of MHC class II and adhesion molecules on monocytes present within affected joints.

Health Benefit of fish oil

The extraordinary health benefits of fish oil were first discovered back in the early 1970’s when doctors in Denmark studied Eskimos living in Greenland.  They noticed that they had fewer heart attacks and a much lower incidence of arthritis than the Danish, despite the fact that they ate a high fat diet. Studies from all over the world, have since shown that the health benefits come from the Omega 3 essential fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  These are found in the fatty tissue of fish that the Eskimos ate in very high quantities.

Traditionally, man ate a diet that was equally balanced between Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids on a ratio of 1:1.  Today it is estimated that this ratio is more like 25:1 and sometimes even as high as 50:1, with a whopping 85% of the population consuming too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3. This is having a disastrous effect on the health of the population, leading to a higher incidence of cancers, particularly hormonal cancers, inflammatory diseases and allergies.

Essential fatty acids are essential in that they are necessary for the body to survive, but the body cannot produce them itself, it has to rely on dietary sources.  Unfortunately, Omega 6 is in plentiful supply in our diets today; however, the Omega 3 fatty acids, that are so essential for our wellbeing, can only be found in fish oil and not much else. Both Omega 6 and Omega 3 have very different roles in the body and it is this imbalance that needs to be rectified, either by eating more fish or taking fish oil supplements.  This becomes alarmingly clear when we consider that the Omega 6 fatty acids behave in such a way that they encourage tumour growth, help the blood to clot and promote inflammation whereas the Omega 3 fatty acids do the opposite.

Fish oil can benefit the heart, the mind and the body all at the same time.  Studies show it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, has demonstrated significant success in the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD as well as numerous other conditions, and acts as an immune booster to promote general health.  It has also been found to improve concentration and memory. A recent article in The Sunday Times revealed that the UK government is considering giving fish oil capsules to schoolchildren as due to a rise in the use of convenience and processed foods, they are not receiving an adequate supply of Omega 3.

One pilot study in Bradford, where pupils were given fish oil on a daily basis, resulted in 81% of pupils showing an improvement in reading, 67% in writing and 74% in Maths.  Another study in Lancashire showed that pupils who took fish oil for 3 months before their GCSE exams managed to achieve one grade higher than what would have been expected.

Food for thought indeed.

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