Archive for March, 2012

Omega 3 can reduce the risk of stroke by reducing the risk of Atrial Fibrillation

The role of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA in heart health has been established that some time, and the reason the American Heart Association tells us all to maintain a minimum level of intake of the Omega 3 fats.

More evidence is now emerging about the role of the Omega 3 fats in helping to prevent Atrial Fibrillation.

Atrial Fibrillation is a heart condition. It is often associated with chest discomfort including chest pain and palpitations, and is a form of cardiac arrhythmia, namely an irregular heartbeat.

Whilst Atrial Fibrillation may present no symptoms to the sufferer it has implications for their future health. For instance it can increase the risk of stroke in the presence of other risk factors like high blood pressure.

Atrial Fibrillation is quite common, and estimates are that it affects hundreds of millions of Americans and costs tens of $billions in health care costs. In particular its association with an increase in the risk of stroke is very serious. One of the major risk factors for Atrial Fibrillation is age, and as people pass the age of 40 their risk increases significantly, and this risk increases with advancing age.Omega 3 and Atrial Fibrillation

A study on Atrial Fibrillation, known as the “Framingham Heart Study“, observed that Atrial Fibrillation is now emerging as a major public health concern. That study examined the risks for developing Atrial Fibrillation, and concluded that the lifetime risk is one in 4 for men and women over the age of 40. That’s significant.

In a new study published in late 2011,  the role of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids in preventing or helping prevent Atrial Fibrillation was examined.

In the study over 3000 men and women above the age of 65, who were free of Atrial Fibrillation or heart failure, were studied over a period of 10 years. Part of the study included readings of their levels of the Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (together with DPA).

The conclusion of the study was that “In older adults, higher circulating total long-chain n-3 PUFA and DHA levels were associated with lower risk of incident AF.” (where long-chain n-3 PUFA means Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and AF means Atrial Fibrillation).

In fact it would appear from the study that more DHA alone had some effect on helping reduce the risk of Atrial Fibrillation.

And of course further studies are required to confirm the results and also to investigate whether or not increasing the amount of Omega 3 fats in the diet could be a form of primary prevention of Atrial Fibrillation.

This is an extremely important result given the number of people who suffer from this heart condition and the cost in both dollar terms and human terms of the condition. In many cases it can lead to death.

Good news indeed, the role of the Omega 3 fats in heart health continues to amaze.

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Colon polyps can cause colon cancer, and Omega 3 can reduce the risk of polyps

New research is now showing the Omega 3 essential fatty acids may help reduce the risk of colon polyps in women, though it seems from the research that that protective mechanism doesn’t extend to men.

Colon polyps are growths on the interior surface of the large intestine. In some cases colon polyps are benign, meaning that they do not lead to any further health risks, particularly cancer, however in other cases colon polyps may lead to bowel cancer.

Generally people who have developed polyps in the intestine do not experience any particular pain or other symptoms, and so they may be difficult to detect. In some cases they may be associated with bleeding or some other mild symptoms, however generally they are not detected from physical symptoms.

However they can be detected through colonoscopy, if performed.Omega 3 for colon polyps

There’s a number of different types of colon polyps, some more dangerous than others.

One of the major risk factors of developing polyps is age, and it is estimated that anywhere up to half of people over the age of 60 will develop one or more.

Other inflammatory conditions of the colon, like Crohn’s disease, are also considered to increase your risk of colon cancer, as is a family history, obesity and smoking.

And, as noted, they do not always lead to colon cancer, they may do, and as colon cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death from cancer in the US, preventing or detecting polyps can be very important.

There has been a new study reported 3 weeks ago on the Vanderbilt University medical Centre’s website. The study was undertaken at the University’s Cancer Centre and has found that women who eat at least 3 servings of fish a week can reduce the risk of developing some types of colon polyps by around a 3rd. Or if you can’t afford fish you could take high quality Omega 3 capsules.

The most likely reason for this result is that it is considered that colon polyps can be a result of inflammation in the bowel, amongst other things, and that the Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish are very effective anti-inflammatories, as effective as aspirin at least, if not more.

In the study 5300 people were given food frequency questionnaires to determine how often they ate fish, and had urine samples taken to determine levels of inflammation from a biomarker found in the urine that can evidence levels of inflammation.

And participants also had a colonoscopy to detect the presence of polyps. Some participants began the study polyp free and others with polyps.

Surprisingly, the protective effect of the omega 3 fats in fish seems to extend to women, but not, according to the study, to men. Researchers commented that this may well be because men generally eat more of the Omega 6 fatty acids which may reduce the protective effect of the Omega 3’s.

A new study is now under way to see if these results can be duplicated using fish oil supplements.

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Using Omega 3 fatty acids as part of an arthritis management strategy

Arthritis can be a pernicious and debilitating disease, and the fear of arthritis can freeze the heart of people as they grow older. Because arthritis is a condition that affects older people.

So let’s look a little at arthritis and see whether there is any evidence that Omega 3 fish oil can help relieve it. Let’s consider what arthritis is first.

There are in fact many different forms of arthritis, in fact there are over 100. However the 2 most common forms of arthritis, and the types that you might be more familiar with are called Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis.

In both cases an underlying cause is inflammation in the joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that primarily attacks the joints in your body, though can also occur in other parts of the body. This form is more common in women than men and generally occurs in older people after the age of 40, though not always. It can be extremely painful and for many people can lead to a serious loss of mobility.Fish Oil for Arthritis

Whilst Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect most of the joints in the body it is more common in the hands and feet and the spine.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is more common than Rheumatoid Arthritis, and can also occur in many of the moving joints in the body, often starting in the spine, though often seriously affecting the hands and feet and hips and knees. Osteoarthritis can eat away the cartilages in joints and eventually lead to bone on bone friction, which is obviously painful.

Anyone who suspects they may be developing arthritis is well advised to consult a medical professional as soon as possible. It is not currently possible to cure arthritis, and medical intervention is more for management than cure. There are some very effective management strategies..

However it is well known that as arthritis is an inflammatory condition anti-inflammatories, in other words substances which help combat inflammation in the body, can be successful as part of an overall management strategy.

Omega 3 fats for Arthritis management

Of course there are various anti-inflammatory drugs. However all of these come with some form of side-effects, often serious. On the other hand the essential fatty acids known as the Omega 3 fats, found primarily in fish oil, are also well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, being very effective at reducing inflammation in the body.

There are also excellent non drug solutions to arthritis, and adding more Omega 3 to your diet should be a big part of that.

There are very few, if any, side-effects from taking more Omega 3 in your diet, and none of the side-effects are serious. For this reason many medical professionals are now suggesting that as part of an overall anti-arthritic strategy arthritis patients should be taking Omega 3 supplements.

If you have arthritis and are considering taking Omega 3 supplements you should consult your doctor for advice on incorporating Omega 3 supplements into an overall management strategy.

However as well as for helping reduce the symptoms of arthritis there are many other health benefits from increasing your intake of Omega 3 fish oil. Almost every month new research comes out about this new “miracle drug” called Omega 3, except that it’s not a drug at all. It’s not manufactured in a laboratory, it comes from the oil of fish.

In fact whether or not you have arthritis there are many other health conditions which may be positively benefited from increasing your intake of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids.

If you’re getting older there are some very powerful reasons to consider increasing your intake of Omega 3. For example there is now solid evidence that more Omega 3 in the diet may help prevent macular degeneration in older people, and macular degeneration is the single biggest cause of blindness in older people. The author has personal experience of macular degeneration, having seen a friend go blind within the last few years for this exact reason. No amount of Omega 3 will help her now, it’s too late.

So if you’re getting older and are worried about arthritis, particularly if you have some symptoms like joint pain, visit your doctor and talk to them about increasing your intake of Omega 3. There’s powerful reasons to do so.

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You’re pregnant and want to take fish oil. Pregnancy though, may be different.

It’s a common question. Should you take fish oil during pregnancy? Of course if you’re pregnant you’ve got 2 to think of before you decide to take Omega 3 supplements. Pregnancy is a special condition for this reason.

The first thing to say always when talking about fish oil in pregnancy is to see your doctor. There’s all sorts of considerations that may be particular to you, and a doctor knows about those considerations. We can only talk about Omega 3 during pregnancy from a general perspective, not specifically in relation to you.

There’s a 2 different questions to ask here. Is fish oil safe during pregnancy? And are there benefits to taking fish oil during pregnancy? Because there’s no reason to take it even if it’s safe if there’s no benefits.

Question number 1. Is fish oil safe during pregnancy?

There is no clear evidence of any risks from taking fish oil in pregnancy, other than the regular, though very limited, side effects. These are, as long as you take no more than the recommended dosage, the risk of some reflux or “fishy burps”, perhaps some temporary stomach upset and perhaps a fishy taste in the mouth. These are rare, not dangerous and usually go away.Omega 3 Pregnancy

For people with some specific medical conditions there is a slightly more elevated risk, particularly of some bleeding, so if you have a particular medical condition then you should, as we always say, consult your doctor. In fact all pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking any supplements.

There are even people who look for pregnancy safe fish oil supplements, but these are not necessary and we don’t know of any Omega 3 supplements with a particular formulation to be “pregnancy safe”. All should be safe.

That’s the answer. No evidence of any particular risks to taking Omega 3 during pregnancy. Except………..

The government issues warnings about pregnant women eating too much fish, because there are some concerns about toxic contamination of fish. And some fish oil supplements HAVE been found to contain concerning amounts of contamination, coming, presumably, from contaminated fish, as you will see from that article.

However the very best fish oil supplements are entirely clean, as evidenced by their Certificate of Analysis (ie chemical analysis of the fish oil). And it”s updated for each batch of fish oil they use, so is up to date all the time.

Not many fish oil capsule manufacturers put an independent Certificate of Analysis on their website. I wonder why?

Question number 2. Is it beneficial to take fish oil supplements during pregnancy?

This is really 2 questions. Is it beneficial to the mother, and is it beneficial to the baby?

Yes it should be beneficial to the mother because there is so much evidence of the benefits of Omega 3 to the health. We’ve gone into them elsewhere on our site. But what about the baby?

Like all these things it’s hard to say what is proven and what is not. There are plenty of studies showing benefits of fish oil supplementation to developing babies, but at what point are those benefits proven? Hard to say.

Lets look at what some of the studies say. Firstly in relation to fetal brain development. The brain is made up of a large percentage of fat, and a large percentage of that fat is DHA, an Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in fish and fish oil supplements.

As the fetus develops it needs essential fatty acids to do so, including to develop it’s brain. These are not made in the body, and so are only available from the food that the mother eats. If she eats plenty of good Omega 3 rich fish then the fetus may get enough. Is she doesn’t it may not.

Studies have concluded that there are benefits to the brain development of the fetal brain. This results, according to some studies, in improvements in childhood coordination including hand/eye coordination, as well as improvements in mental acuity, comprehension and vocabulary.

Other studies have shown that children with ADHD had less DHA in their systems than those without. But whether this comes from pregnancy or later isn’t clear.

And studies have also shown that children of mothers who took fish oil pregnancy had better sleep patterns as infants.

It is thought that the third trimester is the most important time for taking fish oil in pregnancy, as this is when the brain is developing the most. It has been found that preterm infants have low levels of DHA because they have not gone full term so had all the benefits of the last 3 months of brain development and build up of brain DHA. So this suggests also that Omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy should not be just confined to the third trimester but should be undertaken right through pregnancy.

And there are also studies showing that low Omega 3 levels in pregnancy can lead to premature births and low birth weights.

Overall there is very strong evidence of the benefits of Omega 3 supplements in pregnancy. As we say it’s hard to say when it’s fully proven, but the evidence is very strong.
Fish Oil Pregnancy

We conclude with a quote from an article in the New Scientist (Feb 07)

“children whose mothers ate the least amount of seafood during pregnancy showed the worst performance on tests of social development and verbal IQ”

Should you get your Omega 3 fats from fish or from supplements?

There’s plenty of government warnings against eating too much fish generally, but particularly during pregnancy, because of the toxins now found in fish, like mercury. That’s not to say eat no fish, but the only safe way to get daily DHA and other Omega 3 fats in pregnancy is to take the best fish oil supplements money can buy.

Note that not all fish oil supplements are the same, read our article about comparing Omega 3 supplements to find out more.

NOTE 1

What we’ve discussed here isn’t all, though it’s getting pretty long. Here’s a list of some of the other benefits of fish oil pregnancy that have been suggested by the studies. These are benefits to the mother, not the baby.

1. Lower risk of postpartum depression.

2. Reduced risk of breast cancer.

3. Lower risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

4. Reduced risk of a cesarean birth.

NOTE 2

1. One other important point to make is this. One of the most important factors in the development of infants is breast feeding. The infant gets his DHA, once born, through his food. So through mothers milk. If the mother is deficient in DHA this will result in less to the infant, good reasons to take fish oil supplements after pregnancy.

2. When referring to fish oil supplements we are not referring to cod liver oil. There are specific issues associated with excess vitamin A in cod liver oil and it is not generally recommended for this reason.

In our view there is clear evidence for the benefits of fish oil. Pregnancy is no different, except that there are 2 people getting the benefits, the mother, and the soon to be infant.

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