Nutrition

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Nutrition

Fish Oils: The Secret to Good Health Lies in the Sea

by Mihalis Pitsilidis

Research and clinical studies have confirmed that fish oils show multiple beneficial effects on the human body, thanks to the valuable fatty acids they contain. The particular benefits of these fatty acids on the health of the heart and the blood vessels have been documented so well that they now constitute a significant weapon in the physician’s therapeutic arsenal. Why exactly are they so valuable? Dr Georgios Tsikritsakis, cardiologist, answers our questions.

Fish oils are lipids found in fish, particularly cold-water fish, and in other forms of marine life such as phytoplankton. They are nature’s richest sources of a class of fatty acids called Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFA) type n-3 or (as they are more commonly known) omega-3 (Ω-3).

Of the fatty acids in this class, two have been studied most extensively in the scientific literature: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids are precisely the reason why fish are considered to be ideal food, especially for the protection of our heart. “Higher levels of omega-3 acids in the blood mean lower risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease or any form of inflammation in our body”, notes Dr Tsikritsakis, who goes on to list the most important effects of these fatty acids on cardiac health:

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids are a significant means of reducing triglyceride levels.
  2. They increase the levels of HDL- (so-called “good”) cholesterol.
  3. They prevent platelet aggregation and therefore reduce the risk of clot formation.
  4. They decrease blood pressure.
  5. They reduce the levels of homocysteine in the blood.
  6. They prevent the occurrence of dangerous arrhythmias in patients with diagnosed coronary artery disease (risk of infarction).
  7. They reduce the risk of restenosis in patients who have undergone balloon angioplasty.
  8. They provide general protective effects against atherosclerosis, stroke, angina and heart failure.

In addition to these effects, omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in the process of inflammation, by exerting strong anti-inflammatory effects which are valuable even in cases of serious diseases such are rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. “In our body, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are converted into substances called prostaglandins, which exert strong anti-inflammatory effects”, notes Dr Tsikritsakis in explaining this aspect of the action of omega-3 fatty acids.

EPA is credited with beneficial effects for the heart, the blood vessels and various inflammatory conditions, whereas DHA is increasingly recognised as an essential ingredient for good mental development during gestation and in early childhood.

 

OTHER EFFECTS OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

In pregnant women it has been shown that omega-3 fatty acids are vitally important for fetal brain development.

  • They reduce pain, headaches and menstruation cramps (dysmenorrhea).
  • They improve brain function and behaviour and provide protection from Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Also, they are very beneficial in cases of bipolar disorder (manic depression).
  • When administered with calcium supplements, they increase bone mineral density.
  • They are an important ingredient of cell membranes, particularly in neural cells and retinal receptors.
  • They strengthen the immune system and may contribute to the prevention of asthma, allergies and lupus erythematosus.
  • Studies have shown a positive effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.
  • They are useful in the treatment of pulmonary diseases such as cystic fibrosis and emphysema. They protect smokers’ lungs.

 

IDEAL SOURCES OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

As Dr Tsikrikakis notes, “Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA-DHA) can be obtained from vegetable sources through complex biological transformations, or can be injested in their final form by eating fish. However, fatty acids obtained from vegetable sources are not as useful as those obtained from fish oils because the enzymes that convert vegetable fatty acids to omega-3 acids are not particularly efficient. On the other hand, fish oils from fish fat have immensely higher omega-3 content.”

 

Info box

Georgios Tsikritsakis

Clinical and Invasive Cardiologist

78, Agiou Dimitriou Ave., Agios Dimitrios, Greece 17341, tel. +30-210-9738288/788,  mobile +306944506556