The list of health conditions that can improve with essential fatty acid (EFA) supplementation is well over 60 and growing by the day as new research continues to uncover benefits. The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), abundant in fish oils, are responsible for many of these health benefits and have been well researched. Because EFA deficiency is so common, many nutrition experts recommend taking a fish oil supplement as a preventative measure, as part of a daily vitamin regimen. However, people at risk for or suffering from the following conditions may want to be especially sure to consider the benefits of the EFAs in fish oils:
Many studies show that taking fish oil supplements can dramatically lower the risk of a range of heart-related diseases, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arrhythmia and heart attack. A recent review article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings noted a study of 11,324 patients which showed a 45% decrease in risk of sudden cardiac death and a 20% reduction in death from all causes in a group taking fish oils. The EPA and DHA in fish oils are known to thin the blood, improve artery elasticity and lower harmful fat levels in the blood.
DEPRESSION AND MOOD DISORDERS
Omega-3s are essential to the healthy functioning of cell membranes, including brain cells and those of neurotransmitter receptors. They also help regulate electrical activity in brain cells and control the synthesis of chemicals which may have a direct effect on mood. Research shows that people suffering depression are also typically low in omega-3 fatty acids. EPA appears to have the most benefit for depression and mood disorders. In a recent four-month study on 30 patients with bipolar disorder (manic depression), those taking omega-3s in addition to usual treatment had a “significantly longer period of remission than the placebo group.” Those taking omega-3 also did better than the placebo group in “nearly every other outcome measure.”
ASTHMA AND ALLERGIES
Omega-3 EFAs can significantly alleviate the inflammation underlying all allergic conditions, including asthma. One reason is that omega-3s are precursors to prostaglandins, hormone-like chemicals which regulate the inflammatory response. Studies show that children who eat fish at least twice a week have only one-third the risk of developing asthma as kids who don’t eat fish regularly. Research also demonstrates a therapeutic role of fish oils in asthma, particularly in airway responsiveness. However, be patient. It can take many months to notice improvements, as cellular membranes are slow to “turn over.”
NOTE: If on medications for these or any other disorders, consult a health professional before starting a supplement program.
Sources: Encyc of Nat Med (2nd Ed) by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; Healthy Fats for Life by L Vanderhaeghe and K Karst, Quarry:2003; Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999 May;56(5):407-12