Omegas 3’s are a type of Essential Fatty Acid which are found in deep sea fish, linseed oil, dark green leaves, walnuts and egg yolks. Essential Fatty Acids as their name implies are ‘essential’ because they cannot be produced by the body and therefore must be consumed within our diet. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are omega-3s that are found in oily fish, such as salmon and tuna. However, these larger species of fish can also contain high levels of mercury and so the best quality omega-3s are generally found in smaller wild fish such as sardines and anchovies.
What are the benefits of essential fats?
• Reduces inflammation, pain and swelling in arthritic conditions
• Reduces platelet stickiness, blood pressure and premenstrual symptoms
• Shorten exercise recovery time
• Growth enhancing
• Promote smooth skin
• Speeds healing
• Enhances immune functions
Why consume more fish oils?
The typical western diet is too low in Omega 3 fatty acids and too high in Omega 6’s with the ideal ratio being 1:1. Increasing the amount of fish oils in our diet can assist in achieving the correct balance of these fatty acids and have an anti-inflammatory action within the body (1).
Also a deficiency of the omega 3 fatty acids increases the risk of developing a range of chronic diseases or health conditions (1), including: heart disease, some cancers, stroke, type 2 diabetes, skin disorders, cognitive dysfunction, and arthritis.
Omega 3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits, including
• Joint health and mobility: Fish oils are strong anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritic conditions (2).
• Foetal development: During pregnancy DHA is required for the healthy development of the baby’s brain and eyes (3).
• Cognitive function
• Cardiovascular health: Fish oils are important for heart health by increasing the amount of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol and maintaining a healthy heart rate (4).
• Menstrual pain
• Skin health
What are the risks with consuming fish oils?
Although there are widespread benefits for taking fish oil supplements and eating more fish there are some potential risks. Levels of methyl mercury (a form of mercury), PCBs (organic chlorine compounds) and dioxins (by products of waste incineration, paper bleaching and production of plastics have) been found in long-living predatory fish such as sword fish, marlin, flake orange roughy, tuna, sea perch and cat fish.
Although the health effects of long-term low-level exposure to mercury (our current exposure through regular fish consumption) remain less researched, high levels of mercury exposure are clearly documented.
Research indicates that -
• High levels of mercury may result in cognitive and nervous system dysfunction
• Animal studies and some human studies indicate that PCBs may be carcinogenic and have been linked to immune and nervous system effects on the body.
• Methyl mercury readily crosses the placenta of pregnant woman and can affect the child`s brain and nervous system development, affecting learning and behaviour (5).
What are the safest choices?
To take advantage of the numerous health benefits of fish oils consumers should always consider selecting the best quality supplements with little to no amounts of heavy metals or contaminants. Although Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration strictly regulates the minimum standard of these contaminants, some companies are making the conscientious decision to surpass the standard.
Furthermore, modern purification methods such as molecular distillation ensure the highest quality of fish oil is produced. Complimentary ingredients may also be added during manufacturing such as lecithin (fat emulsifier) and lipase (digestive enzyme) to assist with the breakdown of the fish oils so that they may be more easily utilized by the body.
• The Heart Foundation recommends that you eat 2-3 serves of oily fish weekly.
• If you are pregnant or have children under 6 years of age, the Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand recommend only 1 serve per week of orange roughy and catfish and no other fish that week or 1 serve of flake/swordfish and marlin and no other fish that fortnight to reduce exposure to heavy metal and contaminants.
It is also recommended to supplement your diet with a good quality fish oil capsule such as Healthy Essentials Wild Norwegian Pure Omega 3 that has been sourced from wild omega 3 rich fish, is molecular distilled to ensure no heavy metals or contaminants and also contains complimentary ingredients to assist with breakdown and absorption.
1. Simopoulos, AP. The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Exp Biol Med. 2008; 233(6):674-88 doi: 10.3181/0711-MR-311
2. Cleland LG, James MJ, Proudman SM. The role of fish oils in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Drugs 2003; 63(9):845-53.
3. Valenzuela A, Nieto MS. Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) in fetal development and in infant nutrition. Rev Med Chil 2001:129(10):1203-11.
4. Dallongeville J, Yarnell J, Ducimetiere P, Arveiler D, Ferrieres J, Montaye M, Luc G, Evans A, Bingham A, Hass B, Ruidavets J & Amouyel P. Fish consumption is associated with lower heart rates. Circulation 2003;108(7):820-5.
5. Mozaffarian, D. & Rimm EB. Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health - Evaluating the Risks and the Benefits. 2006; 296(15):1885-1898.
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