Omega-3 fatty acids: What’s so special about fish oil?

omega3

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats found in fish, some vegetable oils and some nuts and seeds (like chia seeds and flaxseeds aka linseeds). Interest in these nutrients, related to cardiovascular disease (CVD), arose when the high-fish diet of Eskimos revealed a correlation between omega-3 fatty acid consumption and low rates of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acid studies have shown decreased mortality and morbidity from myocardial infarctions (big-arse heart attacks), stroke and heart disease.

These fatty acids aid prevention and management of CVD as they reduce blood viscosity, platelet aggregation, fibrinogen and thrombin levels which reduces blood coagulation – in other words, it makes your blood less sticky. It can also reduce constriction of blood vessels by blocking the synthesis of a prostaglandin called thromboxane. So this benefits you by lowering your blood pressure. Which makes your heart even less likely to explode! Yay!

Omega-3 fatty acids have also shown to lower blood cholesterol. Doctors, nurses, the bloke at the pub and crazy health nuts all agree that high cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia) is a significant risk factor for CVD. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to inhibit synthesis of VLDLs (very low density lipoproteins) and triglycerides in the liver. This blood cholesterol reduction then lessens atherosclerosis (the formation of that shitty gunk on the inside of your beautiful arteries, the sort that go KABOOM and cause doom and/or gloom). Atherosclerosis is also reduced by omega-3 fatty acids via suppression of production of inflammatory mediators such as prostaglandins, eicosanoids and cytokines. This anti-inflammatory effect can also aid other conditions like arthritis and eczema.

So, eat fish and nuts and seeds. Or be lazy and take a top quality fish oil (make sure it is cold pressed).

SOURCES/READING:

Braun, L. and Cohen, M. 2010. Herbs & Natural Supplements. 3rd ed. Sydney: Elsevier Australia.

Connor, W. 2000. ‘Importance of n- 3 fatty acids in health and disease’. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 71 (1), pp. 171-175. Available at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/171S.full 

Hu, F. 2003. ‘Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: an overview’. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78 (3), pp. 544-551. Available at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/544S.long 

Osiecki, H. 2010. The Nutrient Bible. 8th ed. Eagle Farm, Qld.: Bio Concepts Publishing.

Rolfes, S., Pinna, K. and Whitney, E. 2012. Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Sarris, J. & Wardle, J. 2010. Clinical Naturopathy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Practice. Chatswood, N.S.W.: Elsevier Australia.

Wang, C., Harris, W., Chung, M., Lichtenstein, A., Balk, E., Kupelnick, B., Jordan, H. and Lau, J. 2006. ‘n- 3 Fatty acids from fish or fish-oil supplements, but not alpha-linolenic acid, benefit cardiovascular disease outcomes in primary-and secondary-prevention studies: a systematic review’. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 84 (1), pp. 5–17. Available at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/1/5.full

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