Fish oil has been receiving mixed reviews from researchers lately. Some studies claim to show that fish oil offers protection for your heart, plays a role in the prevention of certain cancers, or improves cognitive health, among other benefits. Other studies claim that buying fish oil is a waste of money. In this climate of contradiction within our broader mainstream medical system, including the media, I would like to discuss fish oil and omega fatty acids and hopefully help to clear up some of the confusion.
Given the health claims about fish oil and omega fats, let’s discuss what omega fats are. Omega fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids called omega-3, 6, and 9, and are derived from linolenic, linoleic, and oleic acids, respectively. The omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the omega-6 fat called linoleic acid (LA) are essential, meaning that the body cannot produce them. Omega-9 fatty acids are not essential as they can be produced in the body from adequate amounts of the other essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are most abundant in fish and flaxseed, while omega-6 fats are found in corn and soybean oil. Omega-9 fat is abundant in olive oil. The most important omega fats for heart health are the omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It’s important to note that the body does not adequately convert ALA into DHA and EPA, so it’s best to get more DHA and EPA from diet or supplements.
Numerous studies and clinical trials have demonstrated the effects of omega-3 fats for heart health. One study examined 93 patients experiencing early heart failure who were given between 850 and 882 mg of fish oil every day for one year. The patients were monitored monthly, and those who took fish oil showed improvements in left ventricular ejection fraction, exercise capacity, and hospitalization for heart failure.
The August issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology presented four trials involving almost 40,000 participants and found evidence of omega-3 fatty acids acting in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and treatment after a heart attack. Another large study consisting of 57,972 Japanese men and women who were studied for 12 years to determine if their high diet of omega-3 fatty acids from fish consumption provided protective cardiovascular benefits. The study found that their intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced death from total cardiovascular disease by up to 19%.
Omega fatty acids help raise your HDL or "good cholesterol," and can help fight depression. They also support neurotransmitter function and are beneficial for the brain and nervous system. The best natural sources for DHA and EPA are from fish such as wild-caught salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and also from walnuts, flax seed and green leafy vegetables.
Omega-3s are used in the formation of cell walls, making them supple and flexible. A study from Clinical Cardiology in 2009 showed that omega-3 fats reduced plaque build-up in arterial walls. They also lower triglycerides and soothe inflammation, while omega-6 fats tend to encourage inflammation. The ratio of omega-6’s to 3’s should be somewhere between 2:1 and 4:1. However, due to the amount of plant oils we eat in refined and processed foods, many Americans eat 10 to 30 times more of the omega-6 fats than we need! This creates a cycle of inflammation in our bodies, which we can counteract with intake of more omega-3 fats. Given the medical research on omega fats, I would recommend supplementing with 600 mg of DHA fish oil (select fish oil supplements that are tested for heavy metals, PCBs, and other toxins) or adding more fish into your diet, along with the use of time-tested herbs and compounds known to support the cardiovascular system.
In conjunction with a healthy diet, regular exercise and positive stress relief measures, fish oil along with traditional herbal formulas can work together to promote circulatory health and overall vitality, safely and naturally.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980's, is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator and clinical practitioner.
Since 1991 Dr. Eliaz has maintained a busy private practice in northern California that focuses primarily on integrative, holistic protocols for cancer patients. He leads an integrative medical team at Amitabha Clinic in Sebastopol, California with focus on cancer and other chronic ailments.
To learn more, please visit www.dreliaz.org.
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