Archive for March, 2010

What are the benefits of DHA to your health, and what about EPA?

Today we want to look at the benefits of DHA, (Docosahexaenoic acid), the most important of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) known as Omega 3 fatty acids, but which sometimes go under the name of n-3 fatty acids or long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The DHA benefits are numerous. Lets consider some of the reasons why DHA is so important to your health.

There are so many different fats, like saturated fats, trans-fats, unsaturated fats, essential fats that it all gets confusing. The bottom line is that there’s good fats and bad fats. Some are useful to your health and some are not. DHA as well as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are what is known as polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are beneficial to your health and most of us are deficient in our levels of these fats.

In the past our diet was much higher in fish and other seafoods. We got our polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet. Now the average Western diet is too low in seafoods and as a result almost all of us are deficient in DHA and EPA.

Your body doesn’t produce essential fatty acids itself and so all of them have to come from your diet, or from high quality supplements.
DHA benefits

DHA and EPA are not the only omega 3 fatty acids. Whilst these are found in fish it is also possible to get ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from plants, however ALA is not as useful to our body as DHA and EPA.

As well as omega 3 fatty acids there are also Omega 6 fatty acids. However whilst our intake of Omega3 fats has reduced over the years our intake of Omega 6 fats has increased. That is because the main sources of Omega 6 are oils such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame oil and corn oil. As much of our processed food is cooked in or contains one or more of these oils our Omega 6 intake has increased.

An increase in the n-6 to n-3 ratio also has some serious health implications, we need to increase our intake of Omega 3 EFAs and reduce our intake of Omega 6 EFAs.

So lets have a look at the health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid. Somewhere around 60 % of the brain is made up of fat, and DHA is the predominant fat in the brain. It is also the predominant fat in the retina of the eyes.

An adequate supply of DHA is essential for the development of the brain and eyes, and pregnant or nursing mothers can supply of DHA to the fetus and the baby by taking DHA supplements themselves. Some infant formulas now contain DHA.

It is taken up more readily by the brain than any other fatty acid, because it crosses the blood/brain/placenta barrier more successfully. Most of the development of the brain occurs during the life of the fetus and infant. At birth the body weight of an infant is 5 percent of adult weight but the brain size is 70 percent of the size of an adult right. Most brain growth is completed by the age of 5 or 6.

There is evidence that 40% of children with ADHD have low levels of DHA. It is considered that it also has a beneficial effect on the academic performance of children in school.

It is also known that DHA has an important role in the development and health of the central nervous system.

For the adults studies are showing that it can help lower triglycerides and reduce the risks of heart disease, decrease blood viscosity thereby lowering the risks of blood clots and reduce the effects of various inflammatory diseases.

A study published in 2009 found that a deficiency of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats was one of the most important causes of premature and avoidable death in the US, with somewhere around 72000 to 96000 people dying from this deficiency.

In many cases the studies are showing that the benefits of fish oil come from the combination of DHA and EPA together, and it’s difficult to separate out DHA benefits on their own. However it’s clear that increasing your intake of DHA is very important to your health.

Fish and fish oils supplements contain DHA and EPA together. However many have way more EPA than DHA, and some are now beginning to think it should be the other way round. That the DHA is more important to your health, and that this should be the predominant n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in the fish oil capsules.

The best Omega 3 capsules now have more DHA than EPA.

There’s no doubt now that almost all of us on the western diet are chronically short of the essential fatty acids known as Omega-3, particularly DHA. And that for some of us this could cause our premature death.

The good news is that there are excellent fish oil capsules available that allow us to take our DHA, and EPA, daily, providing a higher amount of DHA than EPA.

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Taking fish oil pills is good for you. Or is it?

There has been much discussion lately about whether taking fish oil pills can be dangerous to your health. But why in the world could fish oil supplements be dangerous, aren’t essential fatty acids meant to be good for your health?

There is ample evidence that taking Omega 3 supplements containing fish oil, which is high in the essential fatty acids known as DHA and EPA, is good for your health. The health benefits of essential fatty acid supplementation are well recognized and such organizations as the American Heart Association recommends that we all have minimum levels of intake of essential fatty acids, because doing so attracts a wide range of heart health benefits.

Of course we can do that by eating plenty of oily fish but for most of us this means taking fish oil pills.PCBs in fish oil

And as well as the beneficial effects of essential fatty acid supplementation to the heart there is also a wide range of beneficial health effects more generally. In fact the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids go on and on.

So why could taking fish oil pills be dangerous to your health? The debate raging over the last few days is about the presence of PCBs in fish oil supplements.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) are industrial chemicals that are man made. They have been linked to various types of environmental contamination as well as to a range of health risks to people who consume foods containing PCBs. They are considered to be carcinogenic and can also lead to reproductive toxicity and are extremely persistent, meaning that they do not break down in the environment and that they can make their way up the food chain.

This has been well-known for quite some time and the manufacture of PCBs has been banned in the US for around 30 years.
PCBs in fish oil debate

The reason that there is a current discussion about PCBs in omega 3 fish oil pills is that a lawsuit has recently been launched against some manufacturers of fish oil supplements alleging that contrary to the provisions of Proposition 65 under California law they have failed to alert the public to the risks of PCBs in their products. The law requires that consumers be warned where the fish oil supplements contain levels of PCBs in excess of a prescribed amount.

Although not all brands of fish oil capsules have been tested a number have and there is a wide discrepancy between different brands of omega-3 fish oil pills in the levels of PCBs discovered. Some brands had significantly higher levels than others.

Under proposition 65 there is a recommended maximum level for PCBs as a cancer risk but the risks of PCBs to reproductive toxicity are less well understood and there is no maximum levels set.

Therefore it would seem to make sense, when consumers are seeking to buy omega 3 fish oil supplements, that they seek to buy the supplements with the lowest level of PCB contamination. This seems to be the object of the lawsuit and in the backgrounder it states that “the only guideline consumers can follow is that less is safer”. This would make sense.

How do you determine the level of PCBs found in your essential fatty acid supplements? If you’re looking to buy high quality Omega 3 fatty acids supplements you should be able to find a Certificate of Analysis or the fish oil used in the capsules, which would commonly be available on the website, and it should specify the level of PCBs detected on testing.

A different question is how much PCBs are acceptable. There are different organizations offering different maximum levels of PCBs to be found in fish oil pills.

The testing that led to the court action has found significant levels of PCBs in a number of different brands of fish oil pills.

This suggests to us that as well as being the best fish oil supplements on the market they also have an extremely low level of PCBs present under current methods of scientific testing, substantially lower than the brands tested, and perhaps none at all.

However to satisfy yourself should visit the website of Xtend Life and read their information about the cleanliness of their fish oil supplements yourself. And you will see their explanation on that page of why their test results are so clean.

So to summarize, there are clear benefits of fish oil supplementation. There is little doubt about that. However there can also be risks of contamination from PCBs (and other toxins too) in some brands, and it pays to do your research to find out the cleanest fish oil pills on the market.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are clear fish oil supplementation benefits, there is now little doubt about that. Don’t let the current controversy about PCBs convince you that you should stop taking fish oil pills. Just make sure that your essential fatty acids don’t come with some unwanted additions.

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Is there any good reason to buy odorless fish oil capsules or are “fishy burps” a sign of some other problem?

If you’ve spent some time researching the benefits of Omega 3 polyunsaturated essential fatty acids you will inevitably come across odorless fish oil capsules. Today we want to look at what odorless fish oil capsules contain and consider whether you need to buy them.

As you may be aware the health and heart benefits of Omega 3 essential fatty acids found in fish are well-established, and there are good reasons why all of us, with the exception perhaps of those amongst us who eat a lot of oily fish, should be taking Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements to reduce the risk of various diseases, to improve our overall health and in particular to reduce our risk of coronary heart disease.

However reviews of various fishoil products by customers of these products have mentioned a particular problem with various brands of fish oil softgels. The problem is what is known as “fishy burps”, or in other words repeating of the fishy taste, or that the person who has taken the Omega 3 supplement experiences a form of fishy aftertaste some time after taking the capsules.

For this reason it is now possible to buy “odourless Omega 3 supplements”, or odourless Omega 3 liquid softgels. However we question whether it is important to find fish oil supplements that are odorless or whether the truth about odorless Omega 3 capsules is a little more fishy.Odorless Fish Oil Capsules

The question that needs to be asked is what is it that causes that fishy aftertaste. If the fishy aftertaste is merely an inevitable result of taking any form of omega-3 supplement and there may be nothing that can be done about it, but we do not believe that to be the case. There are excellent brands of omega 3 supplements that are not specifically marketed as “odorless” but which are not reported in user ratings as causing a fishy burps sensation.

So why is it that some brands of Omega 3 capsules repeat and others do not? It all comes down to the quality of the oil used in the softgels. Fish oil can oxidize, or go rancid, just as seafood can go off after a period of time. The highest quality Omega3 supplements use oil which has come from fish which are extremely fresh. Fresh fish oil does not smell “fishy” but oil which has been allowed to go rancid with age will do. If old oil is used in omega 3 softgels then there is a good probability that it will smell fishy.

If you take an Omega 3 capsule and break it open there should be no smell. If there is then the oil used is rancid. Some brands of Omega 3 capsules actually use masking agents to help mask the smell of rancid oil. You are most likely to get that fishy aftertaste from these capsules. There is no need to look for odorless fish oil supplements. What you do need to find is supplements that use oil from fresh fish that has not had time to go rancid. This oil will, by definition, be odorless.

If you’re in doubt about any supplements that you may have just cut one open and put it to the smell test.

Or if you’re feeling particularly scientific you can visit the website of the manufacturer of those Omega-3 supplements and examine the Certificate of Analysis of the oil used. Any manufacturer of high quality Omega3 capsules should publish regular Certificates of Analysis on their websites so that customers and prospective customers can see for themselves exactly what they are getting. It is the oxidation level in the Certificate of Analysis that will tell you whether or not the oil is rancid. The lower the figure oxidation the fresher the oil.

And if the manufacturer doesn’t publish a Certificate of Analysis buy different capsules.

The bottom  line is that there is no need to buy odorless fish oil capsules. Good quality supplements should not repeat, if yours are then change your brand.

Hopefully now you know a little more about odorless fish oil, and why, if you’re searching for odorless fish oil supplements because of a fishy aftertaste you need to consider changing your brand of supplements. There is no doubt that omega-3 fatty acids are good for you, but you don’t need to be suffering from a fishy aftertaste when you take your capsules.

Help support and maintain your health. Just about everyone needs to supplement their diet with Omega 3 polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Odorless capsules, though, are unnecessary. The truth about odorless fish oil supplements is that they are just stale.

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