Omega 3 fish oils have received some negative publicity recently. There were scares over potential contamination in fresh oily fish by mercury, though this has been refuted as an overly exaggerated issue. And more recently, a meta study, which is a ‘study of studies’, was published online that seemed to suggest that omega 3 benefits for heart health and cancer were not true.
But Dr Ray Rice, a food scientist, dismissed the results. He said that despite the claim that 48 studies were reviewed, only 12 actually were, and of that 12, 3 or 4 should not have been included. He described the report as being “conceptually flawed”, having a faulty technique, and being misleading to the public.
There is an abundance of scientific data to support the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish oils, from oily fish such as salmon, and of course, good quality (non rancid) fish oil supplements.
General omega 3 benefits include:
- protecting against cardiovascular disease and improving heart health
- improving joint health
- improving moods and behaviour, including ADHD
- good development of the fetus during pregnancy
- the inhibition of some cancer cells
The Omega 3 Benefits For Heart health
The omega 3 benefits for heart health have been well documented. The Food Standards Agency and the British Nutrition Foundation recommend that people eat 2 servings of fish a week, one being an oily fish like salmon that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
A small study of 18 white men, from ages 68 onwards, who had a heart attack from 3 months to 5 years previously, found omega 3 fish oils benefited their hearts and potentially reduced the risk of further heart attacks. These men took a supplement containing 810mg of fish oil a day for 4 months, and those taking a placebo took a mixture of corn oil and olive oil. The participants didn’t know whether they were taking a placebo or not. Their resting heart rate at rest and after exercise was measured. It was found that those taking the omega 3 fish oils had a lower resting heart rate, and their heart rate returned to normal more quickly after exercise. Those men that have a high heart rate when resting have a greater chance of having a heart attack, and dying from one.
A study designed to assess the combination of 3 supplements that have been found to individually protect against cardiovascular disease found that when used together, the benefit was much stronger. The 3 supplements were omega 3 fish oils, niacin, and vitamin E. Niacin, due to side effects at high doses, was a low dose component. Despite this low dose, the study found that those taking the niacin, fish oil, and vitamin e combination had a greater benefit than those taking fish oil and vitamin e alone.
The study was a double blind, placebo controlled study, with a control group taking none of the supplements. 57 volunteers took the supplements over a 4 month period. After this period, it was found that the total antioxidant capacity of the volunteers taking either 2 or 3 of the supplements increased, with the greatest increase being in the group taking the omega 3, niacin and vitamin e combination. This third group also had significantly higher levels of vitamin e, whereas those not taking niacin did not have this benefit. This is because niacin, and another component of that supplement, gamma-oryzanol, preserve vitamin e in the body.
The study also found that cellular agents that are involved in inflammation, were reduced in both of these groups taking the supplements. In particular, tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) was reduced for both, but only in the group taking the additional niacin and gamma-oryzanol component was the reduction of the inflammatory agent interleukin 1-beta (IL 1-beta) significant.
Combination Omega 3 Supplements
It’s not just omega 3 fish oils with the benefits however. For specific conditions, a combination of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are very helpful.
A study recently published found that teenagers aged 12 to 15 years taking a supplement containing both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids had a remarkably improved attention span. These teenagers had been clinically diagnosed with moderate to severe ADHD and had persistent problems with both impulsiveness, and attention and concentration. At the start of the study, the inattentiveness of these students was measured at an average of 94%. After 3 months of taking a supplement containing a high quality omega 3 fish oil and the omega 6 fatty acid, evening primrose oil, the inattentiveness of the students had fallen to an average of 17%.
With regards to impulsivity, there were similar benefits. From an average score of 89%, impulsivity scores fell to an average of 28% by the end of the trial.
The evening primrose oil was also a high quality one, being made from virgin evening primrose oil. And the study participants were aware they were taking the supplements, so it was not a double blind study. But the results are still excellent. The EPA content of the fish oil component was 500mg taken per day, which in this case was the equivalent of 6 capsules, though this will vary according to different formulations. EPA simply means eicosapentaenoic acid, and is a kind of active constituent in fish oil essential fatty acids.