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Omega-3 Fatty Acids Best Kept Secret in Nutrition

Just Call them Superman

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Best Kept Secret in Nutrition

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of nutrition’s best kept secrets. Primarily found in fish, these beneficial omega-3s are like your body’s watch dogs.

They make sure your heart is functioning correctly and protect your body from a variety of chronic diseases.

Omega-3s and heart health

A new analysis relying on blood tests and years of clinical exams confirms that higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk for heart disease and death in people over age 65, according to a recent study by the Annals of Internal Medicine by the American College of Physicians.

The blood tests were used to track the levels of three different types of omega-3s in 2,692 randomly selected people, with an average age of 74 at the start of the study, for the past 14 years. All participants were generally healthy and without previous heart disease. None used fish oil supplements.

There were 1,625 deaths over the 14-year study period. The highest blood levels of the three kinds of omega-3s, individually and combined, were associated with the lowest total mortality, and there was a dose-response relationship — that is, as blood levels of omega-3 went up, the risk for death declined.

After adjustment for a number of variables, those in the highest 20-percent in omega-3 blood levels were 27-percent less likely to die of any cause than those in the lowest fifth. Those with blood levels in the highest fifth were also 40-percent less likely to die of coronary heart disease and 48-percent less likely to die of an arrhythmia than those in the lowest fifth.

Omega-3s also help combat chronic diseases:

"All these diseases have a common genesis in inflammation," says Joseph C. Maroon, MD, professor and vice chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine and Co-author of Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory. “Large enough amounts of omega-3s will also reduce the inflammatory process that leads to many chronic conditions.”

Here are a few of these conditions:

Cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to lower the overall risk of death from heart disease. Fish oil may reduce arrhythmia, and people who take fish oil supplements after a heart attack cut their risk of having another heart attack significantly. Eating fish once or twice a week seems to significantly lower the risk of stroke as well.

Depression. Researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s also have lower levels of depression.

Asthma. Evidence suggests that a diet high in omega 3s reduces inflammation, a key component of asthma.

Alzheimer's disease and dementia

The evidence is preliminary, but some research suggests that omega-3s may help protect against Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

For these and other reasons, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the American Heart Association, and the American Dietetic Association recommends eating two 8-ounce servings of fish each week.

Something smells fishy: what fish should you eat?

There’s tons of fish in the sea; but which ones are right for you?

Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, sturgeon, lake trout and tuna. Many experts recommend eating these fish two-to- three times a week.

What fish should you stay away from?

While eating more fatty fish is a good idea, some are more likely to have higher levels of mercury, PCBs or other toxins. These include wild swordfish, tilefish and shark. Farm-raised fish of any type may also have higher levels of contaminants, unless best practices such as BAP certification or other internationally recognized methods are used. Children and pregnant women should avoid these fish entirely. Everyone else should eat no more than 7 ounces of these fish a week. Smaller fish like wild trout and wild salmon are safer.

Are omega-3 supplements okay?

If you don’t like fish, you can still take supplements to get your omega-3 kick. And if you want to take supplements in addition to eating fish, that’s perfectly okay too.

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