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Find out more about the benefits of fish oil for your heart. New research has uncovered some more reasons why your heart, and blood, loves it.

There’s no doubt that increasing the amount of Omega 3 essential fatty acids in your diet is good for your heart. It’s well known, and it’s confirmed by the American Heart Association, that maintaining a minimum intake of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids helps reduce your risk of heart disease and dying from a heart attack.

But new research is showing that there are other aspects of heart health that may also benefit from some more of those good essential fatty acids in your diet.

One of the reasons why the essential fatty acids are considered good for the heart is because it is now understood that these fats help thin your blood.

This is good because one of the causes of major cardiovascular incidents is blood clots. For example a stroke is caused by a blood clot.

And in fact most people who have suffered from a stroke are put on medication to help thin their blood to reduce the risk of another blood clot causing another stroke.Fish Oil 3

And it’s not only strokes, patients suffering from a range of other heart disease is can also be put on blood thinning medication.

A new study just released has shown that the effectiveness of blood thinning drugs can be improved by adding a dose of Omega-3 fatty acids to the diet in conjunction with taking the blood thinning drugs.

This study was undertaken at Jagiellonian University in Poland, and was specifically looking at the possibility of improving the outcome for patients who already had a stent in place for pre-existing coronary artery disease. Find out more about the details of the study here.

A stent is a very small tube made out of mesh that can be placed in arteries in the body to assist in their ability to successfully carry blood. It is used in instances where there is a possibility or a likelihood of a restriction in the flow of blood through a particular blood vessel, and a stent helps prop open that blood vessel to keep the blood flowing.

Commonly people with coronary artery disease are given stents to open clogged arteries where this may increase the likelihood of some form of cardiac events such as a heart attack.

In this study patients who had a stent, or who were being given a stent, and who were taking blood thinning drugs, were also given Omega 3 capsules as well as encouraged to eat oily fish, for it’s Omega 3 content. The amount of Omega 3 given was 1000 milligrams per day for the study group, and of course a placebo for the control group.

The patients were taking aspirin and clopidogrel. Aspirin in particular is well known now for its ability to thin the blood, and is on occasion prescribed to people who have suffered a stroke for its blood thinning capacity.

The intention of the study was to examine whether the efficacy of these blood thinning drugs could be improved by the use of the essential fatty acids which are also known to their blood thinning properties.

The conclusion drawn from the study was that adding Omega 3 to the intake of patients on blood thinning medications “improved clot properties and decreased thrombin [a clot promoter] formation after treatment with the fish oil capsules”.

Of course that’s just one of the health benefits to your heart from increasing your intake of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids. There’s many others.

And almost every month new research is being published, and undertaken, about ways to improve your health, including your heart health, from a daily dose of essential fatty acids.

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More and more you can find DHA baby foods, including DHA infant formula. But should you be using it?

If you’re familiar with the benefits of Omega 3 essential fatty acids you may well have come across a range of foods that are supplemented with DHA. An example of this is DHA infant formula . Now that the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids to the fetus and developing infants are established it is possible to buy a range of baby products which include DHA. It’s even possible to buy baby cereal with DHA.

Many well known baby foods are fortified with DHA, (Docosahexaenoic Acid). It is now common to find DHA in baby formula because the baby food industry is, of course, quick to respond to consumer demand. Expect to see more baby foods with DHA fortification.

But what are the benefits of DHA infant formula and should you be using DHA fortified baby foods?

This question was recently addressed in a lecture given by Peter Williat, a child psychologist from the University of Dundee. It was a lecture to a group of mainly doctors, pharmacists and nutritionists given on behalf of SMA Nutritional, an infant formula manufactured and sold by Wyett Nutrition.DHA Infant Formula

This lecture was to mark an improvement in this brand of baby formula. DHA is now included in this infant formula. It was interesting to note that Mr. Williat cited some of the research relating to DHA and baby and infant development. Amongst these benefits to child development, according to Mr. Williat, were improvements in “cognitive development, improved visual acuity, memory retention and ability to communicate and solve problems as well as psychomotor development”.

He also noted a number of interesting facts, including that studies have shown that DHA levels differ wildly amongst populations of different countries and that some of the lowest levels of DHA are in residents of the US and Canada.

Mr. Williat advised that pregnant women and nursing mothers get an adequate supply of DHA in their diet so that these benefits can be passed on to the infant through breastfeeding. If the mother’s intake of DHA is adequate then the DHA is present in adequate quantities for the baby in her milk.

If the mother’s intake of DHA is inadequate this obviously means that the supply of DHA to the baby or infant will also be inadequate.

As he was promoting a new baby formula with DHA you would expect him to promote the benefits of DHA baby formula, however in fact when pressed on the benefits of DHA infant formulas compared to the benefits of breastfeeding he said “No infant formula can ever substitute breast milk. It will take years before anybody can tell us how to add the hormones in breast milk to infant formula”.

Of course breastfeeding is superior to feeding the baby or infant with formula for many other reasons as well however it now seems that even the manufacturers of DHA baby formula, through their representatives, admit that breastfeeding is superior.

However this does rely on the mother getting adequate supplies of DHA in her diet and as we previously noted the average American mother has very low levels of DHA. This is a result of a very low consumption of fish.

Whilst eating one or two meals of oily fish a week is recommended that too has its problems. Only certain types of fish have adequate levels of DHA, particularly oily fish. And fish is usually very expensive and out of the reach of some families, particularly families with a new baby. There is a further problem as well.

It is now well known that fish is generally contaminated with various toxins such as mercury, PCBs, pesticides and other heavy metals, and pregnant and nursing women have to consider the health of their babies when eating possibly contaminated fish, as any toxins could be passed on to the baby.

Then of course there are Omega3 supplements. The best of these, though not all, are free of contaminants and can be safely taken daily at a lower cost than buying fresh fish.

The supplementation of baby and infant foods with DHA will continue, however it seems clear that pregnant women and nursing mothers should be taking some form of DHA supplementation to the benefit of their developing infants and that they should be breastfeeding rather than using DHA infant formula. But it is important that the mother herself have adequate levels of DHA, both for her own health and that of her child.

Virtually all medical professionals advise young mothers that breastfeeding is better than bottlefeeding using formula, for a range of reasons. Of course that doesn’t mean that young mothers can all breastfeed, there are other issues to be considered as well.

However, where possible, breastfeeding is better. The American Academy of Paediatrics says that infants should be breastfed for the first 6 months of life exclusively.

Breastfeeding, or more specifically breastmilk, has constituents which help the baby beyond merely providing nutrients. Breastmilk can help prevent infections as well as allergies and also chronic health conditions.

Of course there are all sorts of issues to think about when mothers are considering how best to feed their babies, and if you’re interested in finding out more about breastfeeding compared to bottle feeding generally you can do so right here.

And this doesn’t address the issue of how much DHA is found in many fortified foods. Not much according to some. But that’s an issue for another day.

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Don’t be taken in by claims that Omega 3 supplements contain “pharmaceutical grade fish oil”.

Often when you’re researching information about the benefits of Omega 3 fish oils you will see the term “pharmaceutical grade fish oil”. We would like spend some time discussing exactly what “pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplements “are and are not.

The bottom line is that “pharmaceutical grade Omega 3” doesn’t actually exist. It is in fact a marketing term rather than a technical definition relating to the purity or quality of fish oil supplements.

There is no definition of “pharmaceutical grade” in the US Pharmacopeia. The term has come into more common use because companies that manufacture and market Omega 3 supplements use it in an attempt to prove that their products are clean or “pure”.

However there is no organization that determines what “pharmaceutical grade fish oils” are and there is no test to decide whether or not any particular fish oil is “pharmaceutical grade” or not.Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil

In fact it’s very difficult to find any formal standards to which any particular fish oil supplement must comply. There are no binding standards internationally for fish oil grades and every company that manufactures fish oil capsules is free to choose whether or not they comply with any voluntary standards.

There are voluntary standards and you can read more about these in our article about  fish oil purity however none of these are binding and any supplement manufacturer can choose to adhere to the standards or not, or to set its own standards.

There is a very official sounding organization. It is the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS). In fact this is a private organisation that charges a fee to test fish oil products.

Some companies that pass the IFOS test often claim that their products are “pharmaceutical grade fish oil”. As we previously said this is a meaningless term.

However whilst this is a meaningless term there is no doubt that fish oil purity is a serious issue. Fish generally are contaminated with toxins including Mercury, and the FDA warns us not to eat too much for this reason.

Whilst speaking of the FDA, we should add that although the FDA do have standards for fish oil purity they are very easy to meet and most fish oil capsules should have no trouble in meeting them.

So there is every reason for those taking fish oil capsules to be wary about the cleanliness and purity of the Omega 3 fish oils in their capsules.

As you can see from our article about fish oil purity there are in fact a range of standards from different organizations that any manufacturer may or might not choose to meet. The most important thing to consider when buying your fish oil capsules is to get independent evidence of the cleanliness and purity of the fish oil.

We consider the best Omega 3 supplements to be those from Xtend Life. They exceed all the recognized (voluntary) standards and in fact set their own standards for fish oil purity which are substantially below all the recognized standards.

In particular their standard for Mercury is 10 times lower than all 4 major fish oil standards including those of the IFOS.

You should be able to investigate the cleanliness and purity of any fish oil supplements. If you go to the website of any company selling Omega 3 supplements there should be evidence there on the website of independent laboratory testing in the form of an independent Certificate of Analysis.

If you can find a Certificate of Analysis of the fish oils you’re buying you can then see to yourself exactly how pure fish oil is.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you’re getting the best value for money, but it’s an indication of the purity of official you’re buying. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to compare fish oil capsules for value then read our article about how to compare fish oil capsules by price.

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Now we know how good Omega 3 fats are for our health, what are good Omega 3 sources?

It is now firmly established that increasing our intake of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is a very good for our health. And so, as people become aware of this, they start to search for good Omega 3 sources. Let’s examine all dietary sources of Omega 3 fatty acids so that you can decide how to add some more healthy polyunsaturated fats into your diet.

Firstly we need to understand that Omega 3 fats are not just one fat. There are in fact a number of different Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats and they have different sources. Probably the most important of these is DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is found through our bodies but in particular is a major component of the fats that make up our brain. Increasing our intake of DHA is one of the most important goals when we are seeking to increase our intake of healthy polyunsaturated fats.

Secondly is the Omega 3 fat EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). This is also very important to our health but less so than DHA.

And thirdly comes an Omega 3 fat called ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid). This is less important to our health and the other 2 Omega 3 fats for one particular reason. ALA is not synthesised directly into our body but is of benefit to our body because it can be converted into DHA. This is of course useful as it increases our supply of DHA however our body is only able convert ALA in limited amounts. Estimates range from 5 percent to 25 percent of ALA that is eaten can be converted into DHA.

Obviously, if only a small percentage of the ALA that we ingest ultimately becomes available to our body it is not as useful as the other 2.

And there are more Omega 3 fats. For example there is one called DPA, however there is only limited research done of the health benefits of DPA to date.

Therefore, for the average person, the search for good dietary sources of Omega3 fats comes down to the search for sources of DHA and EPA.

However there are special considerations for vegetarians and we shall consider those shortly.
Omega 3 Sources

So what are good DHA sources and EPA sources? Basically this comes down to fish. Fish eat various forms of microscopic algae, amongst other things, and micro algae has the 2 most important Omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, and so these are present in the oil of the fish that has eaten it. It is really only fish that are able to produce substantial sources of these 2 essential fatty acids in any quantity.

That is why the initial studies done some decades ago that started to establish the health giving properties of Omega 3 fats were done on Eskimos. Eskimos eat a large amount of fish and it was found that they were particularly healthy.

They had very low rates of many of the lifestyle diseases that afflict so many people in the US such as heart disease and others and this was linked to their intake of Omega 3 fatty acids from their diet high in fish.

And so an obvious source of the Omega 3 fatty acids is to eat more fish. However this isn’t quite so easy for people who don’t eat fish, like some vegetarians. Vegetarians who don’t eat fish cannot take Omega 3 supplements made from fish either.

Let’s examine the issue as it relates to vegetarians. Some vegetarians choose to eat fish and some choose not to eat fish. Obviously those who choose to eat fish would also be happy to take daily fish oil supplements and therefore they overcome the problem of finding good clean Omega3 sources in the same way as the rest of us.

However for those vegetarians who cannot eat fish there is a particular problem. Obviously they cannot take regular fish oil supplements as the rest of us can. What can they do?

It is possible to get Omega 3 supplements using the same Omega3 sources as fish use. Fish eat micro algae and convert this into DHA and EPA. It is now possible to get Omega 3 supplements that are made from micro algae that a good EPA and DHA sources.

And of course none of us are restricted to merely taking fish oil supplements. There is more that we can do to increase our intake of Omega3 fats. There are good plant based dietary sources of Omega3 fats even though they are ALA. It is better to eat vegetables and other food sources of Omega 3 fats than not to do so even know increasing our intake of ALA is not as effective as taking fish oil.

Here are some good plant sources of Omega 3 fats. Canola oil. Flax seed oil. Soy beans and soy bean oil. Olive oil. Walnuts and pumpkin seeds. And flax seed oil supplements.

Traditionally meat and eggs have also been good sources of Omega 3 fats however modern intensive farming practices such as grain feeding have reduced the incidence of good polyunsaturated healthy fats in meat and eggs. And of course most vegetarians will also avoid eggs.

So as you can see there are plenty of good Omega 3 sources. The best way to get safe daily doses of the 2 most important fats is to take fish oil supplements. However you can also add some extra foods to your diet to increase your intake of other Omega3 fats.

However is important to understand that not all fish oil supplements are the same and that are a wide range of reasons the best fish oil supplements are both more effective and better value than many of the others.

There is no doubt that it is now clearly established by numerous scientific studies that increasing our intake of DHA and EPA is beneficial for many areas of our health.

It is up to us take the steps necessary to make these an important part of our daily diet. This will ensure that we are healthier and less prone to many of the lifestyle diseases that have afflicted so many American adults in the past. And the lifestyle diseases don’t just affect meat eaters, they can affect vegetarians as well.

However you do it make sure that you add some good Omega 3 sources to your diet everyday.

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