Health Benefits of Fish Oil - Omega 3

Health Benefits of Fish Oil - Omega 3 include improving survival after heart attacks, reducing fatal heart rhythms and decreasing all-cause mortality in patients with known coronary heart disease.

Fish oil has been shown in epidemiological and clinical trials to reduce the incidence of heart disease by lowering cholesterol. Large-scale epidemiological studies suggest that individuals at risk for coronary heart disease benefit from the consumption of fish oil as it is high in omega 3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s, specifically DHA and EPA, are being examined for other health benefits, such as treating rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's (because of anti-inflammatory properties); treating depression and other psychological disorders (because they may boost serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violent behavior); reducing the risk of diabetes, insulin resistance in people with diabetes, psoriasis and other skin conditions; helping osteoporosis (because they may enhance bone density); and fighting cancer (because they may inhibit cancer cells in the breast, prostate and colon).

A recent Canadian study suggests a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and sardines, and in fish-oil capsules, can help keep Alzheimer's disease at bay. Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that a diet high in docosahexenoic acid, or DHA--an omega-3 fatty acid found in relatively high concentrations in cold-water fish--dramatically slowed the progression of Alzheimer's disease in mice. Specifically, DHA cut the harmful brain plaques that mark the disease.

People with higher plasma levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid found in fish, had a significant 47% reduction in the risk of all-cause dementia and a 39% reduced risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers found a link between fish intake, an important source of DHA, and a reduction in dementia, Ernst Schaefer, M.D., of Tufts University reported in the November 2006 issue of Archives of Neurology.

Every patient in the cardiac care unit at the San Filippo Neri Hospital in Rome who survives a heart attack goes home with a prescription for purified fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acids.

�It is clearly recommended in international guidelines,� said Dr. Massimo Santini, the hospital�s chief of cardiology, who added that it would be considered tantamount to malpractice in Italy to omit the drug.

In a large number of studies, prescription fish oil has been shown to improve survival after heart attacks and to reduce fatal heart rhythms. The American College of Cardiology recently strengthened its position on the medical benefit of fish oil, although some critics say that studies have not defined the magnitude of the effect.

In the United States, however, heart attack victims are usually not given omega-3 fatty acids, even as they are routinely offered more expensive and invasive treatments, like pills to lower cholesterol or implantable defibrillators. Prescription fish oil, sold under the brand name Omacor, is not even approved by the FDA for use in heart patients.

�Most cardiologists here are not giving omega-3�s even though the data supports it � there�s a real disconnect,� said Dr. Terry Jacobson, a preventive cardiologist at Emory University in Atlanta. �They have been very slow to incorporate the therapy.�

The fact that heart patients receive such different treatments in sophisticated hospitals around the world highlights the central role that drug companies play in disseminating medical information.

Because prescription fish oil is not licensed to prevent heart disease in the United States, drug companies may not legally promote it for that purpose at conferences, in doctors� offices, to patients or even on the Internet.

If people paid more attention to guidelines, more people would be taking fish oil.
Lack of FDA approval means that insurers will not pay for treatment with fish oil. Approval from the agency for the use of the drug in heart disease is not expected soon.

A study published last month in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that only 17 percent of family doctors were likely to prescribe fish oil to their patients, including patients who had suffered a heart attack. There was a great need, the authors concluded, to �improve awareness of this important advice.�

�Using this medicine is very popular here in Italy, I think partly because so many cardiologists in this country participated in the studies and were aware of the results,� said Dr. Maria Franzosi, a researcher at the Mario Negri Institute in Milan. �In other countries, uptake may be harder because doctors think of it as just a dietary intervention.�

In the largest study of fish oil � conducted more than a decade ago � Italian researchers from the Gissi Group (Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell�Infarto), gave 11,000 patients one gram of prescription fish oil a day after heart attacks. After three years, the study found that the number of deaths was reduced by 20 percent and that the number of sudden deaths by 40 percent, compared with a control group.

Later studies have continued to yield positive results, although some scientists say there are still gaps in knowledge.

Dr. Harrison, a professor at Bolton Primary Care Trust of the University of Manchester believes that people should generally increase their intake of omega-3 acids, best done by eating more fish. Still, he acknowledged that it was difficult to eat foods containing a gram of omega-3 acids each day. �If you ask me do I take omega-3 supplements every day, then, embarrassingly, the answer is yes,� said Dr. Harrison.

It seems natural for Italy to be the leader of the fish oil trend and home to the largest clinical trials. Scientists have long noted that Mediterranean diets are healthy for the heart and theorized that the high content of broiled and baked fish might be partly responsible.

But the famous Gissi-Prevenzione trial of fish oil had methodological weaknesses: the patients treated with prescription fish oil pills were compared with untreated patients, rather than with patients given a dummy pill. This meant that, despite impressive results, the trial did not meet the FDA�s standards for approval. Yet by 2004, regulators in almost all European countries, including Spain, France and the UK, had approved fish oil for use in heart attack patients.

The American College of Cardiology now advises patients with coronary artery disease to increase their consumption of omega-3 acids to one gram a day, but it does not specify if this should be achieved by eating fish or by taking capsules.

In Europe, meanwhile, research on prescription fish oil, which is now thought to act by stabilizing cell membranes, has gained momentum. The Gissi Group is conducting two huge trials using fish oil in patients with abnormal heart rhythms and in patients with heart failure.

The bottom line is that you have to think for yourself and not wait for the blessing of the FDA or your cardiologist. It is your life that could be saved by Omega 3 fish oil and a daily aspirin tablet.

62-1 Omega 3 High-Dose Fish Oil Concentrate 1000mg 90 capsules $15.95

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