Features

The Fish Factor

"There is sufficient evidence today to indicate that coronary heart disease has an incubation period, as do other infectious diseases. However, this incubation period may be 10 to 20 years with pathogenic alterations to coronary arteries occurring. Once detection is made, early and effective prevention becomes a reality."

-Emanuel Cheraskin, MD

Scientific evidence dating back to the late 19thcentury continues to illustrate how food choices can bring us to disease's door, as well as steer us from its path.

Some of the most exciting findings in disease prevention have circulated around essential fatty acids (EFAs), which not only protect against heart disease but also other health conditions.

To prevent these diseases, patients need to get more of these oily fats, specifically omega-3s, in their diets. As physicians, you play a key role in educating patients about this vital nutrient.

A Closer Look at Omega-3s

EFAs are lipids the body cannot make on its own. They are mostly found and extracted as refined oils from plants and fish.1 These polyunsaturated fats stand in direct contrast to saturated fats and trans fats, which accelerate the incubation period and pathogenic alteration of coronary arteries.2 When EFAs are consumed, they are broken down into prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) that regulate a variety of physiologic processes and protect the heart.3EFAs come in two primary classes: omega-3s and omega-6s.1 The major fatty acids found in omega-3s are alpha linoleic acid (ALA) and its metabolites, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A lot of research has circulated around omega-3s, specifically EPA and DHA. These metabolites, found mostly in oily fish, produce anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. On the other hand, omega-6s, which are found in vegetable oils, produce inflammatory eicosanoids.4 An equal ­balance of these two omega classes ­promotes good health.

Unfortunately, modern diets have skewed this balance. Instead of eating fish, we opt instead for processed foods, with vegetable oils, such as canola and corn oils. In fact, studies dating back to the 1960s show that the standard American diet lacks the critical anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.5Researchers estimate that the current ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is 1:10/1:25, respectively. A healthier ratio would be 1:2 or 1:1 omega-3s to omega-6s.6

The Omega Discovery

Scientists first discovered the role of omega-3s in heart health in 1978, when they took a closer look at the Greenland Eskimos' diet. Despite eating primarily fatty fish, Eskimos had less coronary heart disease than Americans, Europeans and even contemporary Japanese.7,8Scientists determined that the EFAs in the fish (specifically EPA and DHA) reduced the risk of heart disease.9

After years of cumulative data and scores of clinical research, the American Heart Association released a scientific statement citing the same protective benefit of omega-3 fatty acids.10

Study after study has supported the role of omega-3s in heart health. For example, a report published last year in the Journal of Cardiometabolic Syndrome showed omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by decreasing triglyceride levels and blood pressure. They also improved inflammatory markers and endothelial function, as well as prevented cardiac arrhythmias. The study also showed that omega-3s reduced platelet aggregation and vasoconstriction of blood vessels; enhanced fibrinolysis; and reduced fibrin formation, microalbuminuria risk and the incidence of sudden cardiac death.11

In another recent review in Clinical Science, epidemiological and case-controlled studies showed that omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of cardiovascular mortality. Researchers found that these fats decreased chemo-attractants, growth factors, inflammatory eicosanoids (hormone-like substances) and cyto­kines. It also increased nitric oxide production, which improves vasodilation and endothelial relaxation of blood ­vessels.12 Thus, omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to decrease thrombosis as well as ­cardiac arrhythmias.12

Another study, which followed 85,000 women over six years, showed that women who consumed fish two to five times a week vs. those who consumed fish only once or twice a month were less prone to stroke, thrombosis and high blood pressure.13 Other research shows that people who predominantly consume nonhydrogenated, unsaturated fats (primarily in the form of omega-3) significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease.14

A Wider Salve

The important role omega-3s play in maintaining heart health cannot be denied. But this lipid is also protective in other disease processes. For example, we now universally accept that omega-3s reduce elevated cholesterol levels,15 have powerful anti-inflammatory16properties and help build the brain.17Their ability to help normalize blood sugar and manage diabetes,18 as well as offer relief to people suffering with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis also have been documented.19 Recent research has focused on omega-3 fatty acids as a cancer preventive agent. In fact, emerging scientific data show that EFAs may inhibit cancer cell proliferation, possibly preventing the spread of cancer cells throughout the body.20

In 2006, researchers noted promising laboratory studies that indicated omega-3 fatty acids inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells by regulating genes involved in cellular reproduction.21 Additional studies show that fish oil supplementation doubled the survival rate of patients with advanced cancer of the breast, colon, lung or pancreas.22

Furthermore, well controlled trials have validated omega-3 fatty acid's ability to improve neurological function and protect brain molecules. Its role in preventing Alzheimer's diseases, dementia and promoting optimal brain health at all ages of life, has now been validated.23 There is even some evidence that EPA and DHA play a role in minimizing multiple sclerosis disturbances, since omega-3 fatty acids help form myelin.24

New Sources

Emerging evidence also indicates that alternative sources of omega-3 fatty acids, namely Neptune Krill oil (NKO), provide benefits similar tothose of fish oil.

From theAntarctic waters, NKO is considered the world's largest animal biomass on earth, with an estimated 500 million tons of krill habituating the northern seas. These shrimp-like crustaceans are rich in three phospholipids: phosphyatidycholine, phosphatidylinositol and phosphatidylethanolamine, all of which contain high amounts of EPA and DHA.25 The sea algae that krill consumes gives it and other crustaceans, such as lobster and shrimp, their reddish-pink color.

Researchers are particularly excited about this source of omega-3 fatty acids; studies show it can inhibit inflammatory reactions because it can lower C-reactive protein levels.26 Many physicians use C-reactive protein levels, which indicate systemic inflammation, as biomarkers for detecting disease.27,28 In fact, some health officials believe that elevated C-reactive protein levels more strongly indicate the presence of heart disease than elevated cholesterol levels.28-30

eptune krill oil has an additional benefit: high concentrations of the antioxidant astaxanthin.31 Astaxanthin is a red pigment found naturally in a variety of caretenoids, which are fat-soluble pigments found in plants and algae.32 Antioxidants can help neutralize the free radicals that damage the cells and DNA, cause cancer and accelerate aging.

Cholesterol Modulation

A series of recent studies by Canadian researchers found that krill oil was also effective at lowering cholesterol levels, especially LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) while raising HDL (the good cholesterol) up to 44 percent in some cases.

A current study appearing in Alternative Medicine Review provided a group of 120 participants with NKO, fish oil or a placebo. The krill oil reduced LDL cholesterol by 34 percent and raised HDL cholesterol by 13.5 percent, as compared to 4.6 percent and 4.2 percent in respective categories for omega-3 fish oil.33 These researchers also reported that 1.5 grams of Neptune krill oil were more effective at reducing cholesterol levels than 3 grams of omega fish oils.

The most impressive aspect of this study was that total cholesterol levels dropped by 19 percent after more than three months on a maintenance dose of 500 mg of Neptune krill oil twice daily. Continually using Neptune krill oil at 500 mg/day further reduced LDL cholesterol by 44 percent and triglycerides by 25 percent, while HDL levels went up 33 percent from baseline. The researchers concluded that NKO's rich source of phospholipids, especially astaxanthin, was responsible for its medicinal benefits.34 Based on collective data over the last decades, omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in reducing and reversing heart disease, but also in preventing other diseases. Therefore, we now have a viable option to prevent, treat and eliminate the pathogenic alterations associated with a myriad of disorders.

Based on current research, I would suggest 1 gram to 1.5 grams of omega-3 fish oil for patients. Emerging data also suggest a similar daily intake of NKO.

While the fatty acids found in omega-3 fish oils remain the pre-eminent and the most widely researched source of essential fatty acids, NKO also may serve as viable complementary or adjunct supplemental option.

No matter how you recommend patients get their omega-3s, you can play a key role in ensuring these oils become your patients' predominant sources of fat. All current indicators suggest this extra step could save you-and your patients-from dealing with a life-altering diagnosis years down the road.

For a list of references, go to www.advanceweb.com/healthyaging. Click on the references toolbar.

George L. Redmon, PhD, ND, is a leading expert on nutritional supplements, herbal botanicals and holistic health care. He has authored six books on alternative ways to ­manage arthritis, chronic fatigue, sexual dysfunction, obesity and prostate disturbances.




     

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