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General use-Omega-3 fatty acids


Heart disease and stroke

Omega-3 fatty acids are good for the heart. The omega-3 oils increase the concentrations of good cholesterol (high density lipoproteins, HDL) while decreasing the concentrations of bad cholesterol (triglycerides). In addition, eating omega-3-rich food will result in a moderate decrease in total cholesterol level. In a clinical study of 38 women, flaxseed flour, which contains high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, decreased total cholesterol level by 6.9% and LDL cholesterol by 14.7%. In addition, lipoprotein(a), which is associated with heart attacks in older women, decreased by almost 10%. Thus, omega-3 fatty acids is a natural alternative to estrogen in prevention of heart attacks in postmenopausal women.

Furthermore, omega-3 oils also protect the heart by preventing blood clots or keeping other fats from injuring the arterial walls. They not only relax arteries but also help to decrease constriction of arteries and thickening of blood.

Hundreds of studies have shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of heart attacks, strokes, and abnormal heart rhythms. Eskimos, who eat a lot of cold-water fish, have low rates of heart attacks and strokes, possibly because they have thinner blood, high HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio, and less build up of fatty deposits (plaques) in the arteries. Two clinical trials have shown that regular consumption of fish or fish-oil supplements can prevent sudden deaths due to abnormal heart rhythms. In the Diet and Reinfarction Trial (DART) of 2,033 men who previously suffered a heart attack , men who ate two to three servings of fatty fish a week had their risk of sudden cardiac death lowered by 29% compared to those who had a low fat or high fiber diet. In the Physician's Health Study of 20,551 doctors, a 52% reduction in risk of heart attacks were observed in those who ate at least one fish meal per week compared with those who ate fish once a month or less.

Mild hypertension

Several studies have shown that eating 200 g of fatty fish or taking six to 10 capsules of fish oil daily will lower blood pressure (BP). Therefore, omega-3 can benefit patients with borderline high blood pressure. Omega-3 oils also effectively prevent hypertension in cardiac patients after transplantation.


Supplement for newborns and babies

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal development of vision and brain function, especially in newborns and children. Very low birth weight pre-term infants often have poor vision and motor skills, possibly because they receive less than one-third of the amount of omega-3 fatty acids outside the mother's womb that they would have received as a fetus. Human breast milk contains the appropriate amount of omega-3 and -6 fats is best for all babies. If mother's milk is unavailable, then formulas with soybean oil that provide higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are more beneficial than those made from cow milk for infants. Even full-term babies benefit from the addition of essential fatty acids to cow-milk formulas. Studies have shown that babies given formulas supplemented with EFAs have better vision and score higher in skills and problem-solving tests, compared to babies on formulas that do not contain additional EFAs.


Rheumatoid arthritis

Because omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the action of inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes, they can help control arthritis symptoms. Significant reduction in the number of tender joints and morning stiffness, as well as an increase in grip strength, have been observed in patients taking fish oil capsules. Studies have shown that patients taking fish oil supplements for rheumatoid arthritis require fewer pain medications; some are able to discontinue their nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory treatment. Despite the beneficial effects of omega-3 fats, regular antirheumatic drugs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are most likely still required to control this chronic condition.


Inflammatory bowel disease

High-dose fish-oil supplements have shown to decrease abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and pain associated with Crohn's disease . In one study of 96 patients, patients who received 4.5 g of omega-3 fatty acids (15 fish oil capsules) required significantly less steroids to control symptoms. In another study of 78 Crohn's disease patients, 59% of patients who received nine fish oil capsules (2.7g of omega-3 fatty acids) daily did not have any disease flare-ups for at least one year compared to 26% recurrence rate in patients who were not given fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are also effective in preventing reappearance of Crohn's disease after surgery to remove sections of diseased bowel. In a clinical trial involving 50 patients, patients who received 2.7 grams of omega-3 fats as fish oil cut their rate of disease reappearance in half compared to patients receiving placebo. However, the effectiveness of omega-3 oils varies depending on the type of omega-3 oils being used, length of use, and the patient's diet.


Asthma

Taking high dose omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation of the airways and reduce asthma attacks. According to Donald Rudin, the author of the book titled Omega-3 Oils, allergic disorders such as asthma, may be triggered by too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 fats in our body. Excessive amounts of omega-6 prostaglandins cause the body to produce antibodies that cause allergic reactions. Flaxseed or fish oil supplements can keep the omega-6 fats in check and decrease the inflammatory reactions associated with asthma.


Berger's disease (Immunoglobulin A nephropathy)

Omega-3 fats may be effective in treating this autoimmune disease in which kidney function fails over time with few treatment options available. In a large, randomized study of 150 patients, those who received 3 g of omega-3 fatty acids daily for two years had significantly less reduction in renal function than those treated with placebo. Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids appear to have protective effects and may stabilize renal function in these patients.


Raynaud's disease

There have been few studies evaluating the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in treating Raynaud's disease; however, it appears that fish oil supplements may alleviate some blood clotting disorders.


Mental disorders

According to some studies, many common mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar (manic-depression), attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or schizophrenia, may be triggered by deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids and/or B vitamins. The rates of depression are low in countries that eat a lot of fish, while the rate of depression steadily rises in the United States as Americans eat increasingly more processed food and less fresh fish and vegetables containing omega-3 fats. In one study, 53% of bipolar patients on placebo (olive oil) became ill again within four months, while none of the patients who were given 9.6 g daily of omega-3 fatty acids (as fish oil) did. Supplements containing omega-3 fats have also reportedly been effective in children with ADHD precipitated by essential fatty acid deficiencies. Furthermore, a 25% decrease in schizophrenic symptoms were observed in patients receiving eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil.

Acquired Immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
In a small study of 20 AIDS patients, those who received fish oil supplement at dosage of 10 g of omega-3 fatty acids per day for 30 days gained more weight (2.4 kg) and significantly lowered their concentrations of tumor necrosis factor, which is believed to cause wasting in AIDS patients, compared to those who did not.


Cancer prevention

Omega-3 fatty acids inhibit tumor growth when injected into animals. Flaxseed oil, which is a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to prevent cancer of the breast, colon and prostate. The Mediterranean diet , which is heart healthy, also can decrease risk of getting cancer. The results of a five-year study of 605 men showed that the risk of getting cancer was decreased by two-thirds in persons on the Mediterranean diet as compared to those in the American Heart Association's low fat and high fiber diet. Omega-3 fats, it seems, strengthen the immune systems and inhibit the inflammation and blood circulation of the tumors.


Preparations

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found naturally in the oil of cold-water fish, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies, and tuna, or as extracted oils from plants, such as flaxseed, canola (rapeseed), or soybean. As of year 2000, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board has not issued the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for omega-3 fatty acids. However, according to Health Canada and the British Nutrition Task Force, one needs approximately 0.5% of total daily calories in the form of omega-3 fats. The best way to achieve this dietary requirement is by eating fatty fish two or three times a week and/or eating vegetables and oils containing omega-3 fatty acids. If fish oil supplement is preferred, then one to two capsules a day is sufficient. Each 1 g fish oil capsule normally contains 180 mg of eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and 120 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Vitamin E is often contained in fish oil supplements to prevent spoilage and vitamin-E deficiency, which may occur with high dose fish-oil consumption. Patients should take supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids only under professional supervision to prevent overdosage, adverse reactions, or interactions with other medications. For treatment of diseases, flaxseed oil should be the first choice because it is the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids, relatively safe, and inexpensive.



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