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Oily Fish Provide the Heartiest Meals

Oily Fish Provide the Heartiest Meals

Monday, March 20th 2006

For at least 30 years we've known that people who eat lots of fish have less risk of heart attack. It was first noticed that Eskimos, despite a diet of fish oils and fatty meat, had a low rate of heart disease.

Studies have confirmed that fish eaters had fewer heart attacks, followed by the discovery that cholesterol levels in fish eaters were similar to non-fish eaters, meaning some other factor was protecting fish eaters hearts.

We now know that factor is omega-3, a group of fatty acids found in fish and plants. The omega-3 found in fish is called marine omega-3 and is much more protective than plant omega-3. The best source of marine omega-3 is sardines, salmon or trout, with sardines having twice the concentration of omega-3 as salmon and three times as much as tuna.

Try Sardines again with this in mind and somehow they taste better! Fortunately, the canning process protects the omega-3 from being broken down by oxygen and light.

How does omega-3 work? Well, we know that is doesn't lower cholesterol levels greatly, but it does lower the level of triglycerides in the blood, another important risk factor for heart disease. It also reduces the risk of blood clotting, cutting down the danger of thrombosis.

However the main way that marine omega-3 protects the heart was discovered by Australian researches in 1988 and published in the American Heart Journal that year. They found that there is much less risk of the heart developing an abnormal rhythm if the body has high levels of marine omega-3.

This is important since an abnormal heart rhythm can be anything from a flutter to a cardiac arrest. Having a good level of marine omega-3 not only reduces your risk of heart attack, but also improves your chance of surviving one.

Since then, many studies published in reputable medical journals around the world have confirmed the benefits of marine omega-3 not just in preventing heart problems and clotting disorders, but also in preventing other conditions such as hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and depression. There is also some evidence that it reduces the risk of developing breast cancer and asthma.

For an adequate supply of marine omega-3 you need to have two to four fish meals, preferable oily fish, each week. Alternatively you can take a marine omega-3 supplement. They should be taken after a meal; otherwise you spend the next few hours with the taste of fish oil.

Sadly there is worldwide concern about mercury levels in fish and health authorities suggest that we should not have more than four fish meals a week. This is not too much of a worry with fish from our waters, but is a concern with imported fish. Generally because big fish eat little fish there is less concern about little fish like sardines and more about big fish like tuna. Those sardines are tasting better all the time.

Plant omega-3 is also an essential fatty acid, meaning that it is an essential nutrient in the diet. A normal varied diet will provide adequate amounts but it is found in abundance in nuts, soybean derived foods and canola oil. The body can convert plant omega-3 (long chain) to marine omega-3 (long chain) but it is a slow process and vegetarians usually have low levels of marine omega-3.

One interesting fact which emerges when delving into the interaction of the omega group in the body shows how overdosing on supplements can be detrimental. Another essential fatty acid called omega-6, affects the ability of the body to convert plant omega-3 to marine omega-3. For this and other reasons the ideal diet should be low in omega-6.

Many supplements, especially Evening primrose oil and some otherwise healthy oils, such as olive oil are high in omega-6. Canola oil is good in this regard, having a low omega 6 content. EPO is often combined with marine omega-3 to counteract this problem. The message from this is not to go overboard on supplements, but to keep to a varied diet with regular fish meals.

Source, Weekend Herald, 1-2 February 2003

Footnote from Ideal Health:

The following products are all useful for Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Cod Liver Oil Capsules
Coromega - Omega 3 fish oil
Efalex 220 Softgels
Emu Oil Capsules 750mg
Fish Oil 1500 - Odourless
Hi Strength Liquid Fish Oil
Omega 3
Reflux-free Salmon Oil

Related health information can be found here:

Arthritis & Rheumatism
Blood Pressure (High)
Blood Pressure (Low)
Blood pressure and hypertension
Cardio Vascular Health
Efamarine for healthy skin, hair and nails
Fish oils, garlic and antioxidants for the prevention & treatment of cardiovascular disease
Hemp seed oil - a source of essential fatty acids in a long-term balance

Related articles can be found here:

Fat Intake Linked to Breast Cancer in Premenopausal Women
Fish oils for Dyslexia & ADHD
Looking To The 50s For The Good Oil
Low Fat Foods Promote Obesity

If you need help or advice, you are welcome to email our naturopathic team with your health question.

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered. The information is not intended to be comprehensive or to provide medical advice to you. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.


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