What is Omega 3?
Omega 3 is made up of two essential fatty acids which are vital for the body to keep healthy. These two fatty acids are called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosahexaenoic acid). These two acids are essential to keep all different parts of the body for example the brain and the cardiovascular system healthy.
This essential fat Omega 3 is found in oily cold water fish such as tuna and mackerel. Although many fats are bad for the body and can cause obesity and other conditions, Omega 3 is a 'good' fat and is needed by the body to keep healthy.
The two acids EPA and DHA are polyunsaturated fats which play an important role in our body's functions. This polyunsaturated fat contains double bonds which help to keep cell membranes healthy and the nerves working properly.
Omega 3 can not be produced by the body, so it is essential to gain it through the diet, or through supplements. It can be found mostly in oily fish, but also in low doses it can be found in vegetable oils, and some seeds and nuts.
These fatty acids act as a blood thinner helping various problems like blood clots which can cause strokes. They also are known to lower blood cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
In western modern diets the consumption of Omega 3 is very low. This is mostly due to the amount of processed food we consume instead of fresh food.
What is the history of Omega 3?
Omega 3 was originally used by fishermen in the 1970's to rub over their skin to help keep them warm whilst working in the Icelandic seas. It was well known for its ability to keep the body warm and the skin from cracking.
The Eskimos (Inuit) were studied in Greenland by researchers in the 1970's. They discovered that these people suffered far less from certain diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid compared to their European counterparts. This baffled the researchers as their diet was high in fat from eating animals such as whale, seal, and salmon, which would've have made them more at risk from these diseases not less.
This is when the researchers discovered that all the foods they ate were rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, and that this actual fatty acid was very important for the body to keep healthy.
What conditions and diseases can Omega 3 help with?
Coronary heart disease
- This condition is preventable, yet 110,000 people die from it in the UK every year. It occurs when the blood flow is restricted to the heart. Omega 3 has properties which can relieve the stickiness in the blood and help the blood to flow more freely.
Under development of the brain and visual acuity
- Babies born with underdeveloped brains and vision have been linked to a lack of Omega 3 in their mother's diets. It has been shown that this fatty acid helps the development of the brain and sight, so when pregnant women have a higher intake of Omega 3 it has shown that their babies have been more mentally developed than others.
- Omega 3 has been known to help some cancer patients suffering from cachexia which causes severe weight loss and wasting. Having a high Omega 3 intake can help prevent this giving cancer sufferers a better quality of life.
Depression and anxiety
- Depression and anxiety can be caused by many things and Omega 3 has been known to help these symptoms. There has been a link between low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids and depression, as well as other mental illnesses.
Arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, and Chroyn's disease
- Omega 3 has been known to help some skin conditions as it helps to keep healthy cell membranes, and keep the skin supple. The fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. It is thought that the acids suppress the inflammatory chemicals within the body. This could help to relieve the swelling and pain in arthritis.
Dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD
- These conditions are affected by the brain's activity. Omega 3 is known to help normal brain function, and to help the nervous system. It has been shown in some studies that it can help these conditions.
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease
- These diseases are also affected by the brains activity. Parkinson's could be helped by taking Omega 3 slowing down the trembling and helping in doing everyday tasks. It also can help with Alzheimer's because of its connection to help with the health of the brain.
What recent scientific tests have been done on Omega 3?
As early as 1929 research was being carried out on essential fatty acids (EFA's) to see whether they were important in our diet or not. This early on the research was only being done on animals and the importance was not known for humans.
In 1956 there were claims by some famous nutritionists that diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are caused by a disturbance in fat metabolism. It was noted that we consumed 'bad' fats and not enough 'good' fats within our diet in the 20th century.
The 1970's was when Omega 3 was really noticed and studied intensively as an important nutrient. Since then much research has been done on Omega 3 and its benefits to keeping the body healthy.
Clinical studies which have been supported by the American Heart Association have proved good results for Omega 3's benefits on helping to keep a healthy heart. These studies also showed that Omega 3 had lowered the blood triglycerides levels which are associated with cardiovascular problems.
Additional research has also suggested that Omega 3 can also reduce the risk of having a primary cardiac arrest by up to 70%. This is because Omega 3 helps to stop blood vessel blockages, and in turn helps to stop blood clots forming. It also contains properties to help thin the blood and help stop these problems occurring.
Omega 3 has also shown in Dutch studies that it can help to reduce the risk of strokes. Strokes are caused by the thickening of the blood and this fatty acid can help to thin the blood therefore reducing the risk of strokes.
Mental illness has been shown to have benefited well from Omega 3 trials too, especially schizophrenia. A British study showed that 80% of people suffering from schizophrenia were deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids.
A study headed by the Louisiana state university in New Orleans, USA, was placed in Greenland to study the Inuit's (Eskimos) diets. They found that atherosclerosis was far less widespread among the Inuit then it was anywhere in the world. They found that a seventy year old Inuit's coronary arteries were just as elastic as they were when they were twenty years old.
There have also been certain clinical trials studied on people who suffer from depression. These have shown that people, who have a higher intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, are at less risk from suffering from depression then those with a lower intake.
Additional research studied large groups of people and found that the more Omega 3 fatty acids people consumed the lower overall blood pressure they had.
Is Omega 3 safe to take?
Omega 3 is a natural product that is found in cold water oily fish such as mackerel and tuna. It is safe to take, and has not had many reported side effects. There is one precaution that should be taken before consuming this fatty acid though. Many fish now contain toxins which they have received through chemicals in the sea or through chemical treatment. These toxins can be very dangerous to humans, and should be researched before eating oily fish.
To avoid these toxins, you should buy from known fishmongers who you trust. Also the FSA (Food standards agency) have noted that all fish has to be labelled with exactly what toxins it contains, so always read the label or ask about fish and their toxin content.
Who shouldn't take Omega 3?
Omega 3 has seen to be safe for nearly everyone to take. It is a safe natural product which has not seen to affect certain people in clinical trials. It is safe for children to take at the right dosage, and is actually recommended to women who are pregnant and breastfeeding.
It seems that almost everyone would be safe taking Omega 3, but if you have any concerns you should consult your doctor before taking Omega 3. People who are on blood thinning drugs or have a medical condition should consult their doctor before consuming Omega 3 fatty acids.
Is Omega 3 safe to take with medication and other products?
Although Omega 3 is a natural substance is should be taken with care when taking other products and medications. You should consult your doctor if you are or have been taking any sort of medication, especially blood thinning medication. There are no known interactions between vitamins and minerals with Omega 3 or drugs, but it is always safe to consult a doctor or physician beforehand.
What are doctor's responses to the effects of Omega 3?
Many doctors are very much in favour of Omega 3 in our diets, as it is an essential nutrient we need to keep our body healthy. Omega 3 is not commonly known as an alternative medicine so many rumours of doctors not wanting to prescribe or advise on this product are not necessarily true.
Many doctors have been advising their patients to try taking Omega 3 as a supplement to keep general health as well as helping certain conditions. Many have also support and have been involved in the extensive research and clinical trials that have been conducted on Omega 3. These trials have been essential to finding out the benefits of Omega 3 and how it can help considerably with various conditions.
Dosage, how much should I take, and who can take it?
There should be a balance ratio between Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. Experts have found that we roughly should consume about one to two times more Omega-6 then Omega 3 fatty acids. On average the UK ratio intake rate is 8:1 which means we need more Omega 3 in our diets.
Anyone can take Omega 3 as long as they consult their doctor first. There is not a 'normal' dosage for Omega 3 it depends what you are taking the product for and how much you want it to help. The most common dosage for adults is from about 500mg to 1500mg per day. For children it is advised that children between 5 and 10 should take around 300mg per day, and children over 10 should take around 500mg per day.
Are there any side effects or warnings about Omega 3?
There are some side effects that can be caused by taking Omega 3 the most known are bleeding. Omega 3 has properties which help to thin the blood so if you suffer from a thin blood disorder you should be careful when taking Omega 3. You also stop taking Omega 3 when you are due to have any sort of surgery.
People who have an allergy to seafood should either not take Omega 3 as a supplement or consult their doctor before taking it. Omega 3 mostly comes from oily fish so can cause allergic reactions. There have also been some reports of diarrhoea and gas when taking Omega 3.
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