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Nutrition Column

Fish, Flax, Omega-3’s - what are the health benefits of the fatty acids found in certain foods?

Fish oil supplements are concentrated forms of omega-3 fatty acids, primarily Eicosopentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids named such since the last double bond is located three carbons away from the methyl end. They are found primarily in oily fish with mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines, and herring being excellent sources. Another omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)- found in oils from plant sources including flaxseed, canola, soybean, walnut, and wheat germ. While flaxseed is the most abundant source of ALA, the health benefits derived from ALA do not appear to compare with the biological effects derived from EPA and DHA.

The omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with having anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, antiarrhythmic, hypolipidemic, and vasodilatory properties. Some of the health benefits that have been associated with omega-3 fatty acids include secondary prevention of chronic diseases and an association with:

A recent American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Statement on fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease amplified the benefits of eating fish and recommended at least two servings of fish per week and the use of omega-3 supplementation for patients with coronary heart disease (1 gram per day) and larger doses (2 to 4 grams per day) for those patients with hypertriglyceridemia.

There is a concern with taking in too much omega-3 fat. The use of 4 grams per day (in supplemental form) has shown increased bleeding time and decreased platelet count - something to be aware of for individuals with heart disease and patients on medications.

Taking in fish oil supplements can be beneficial for many conditions and certainly for those with diseases of the heart and vasculature. And eating fish as a primary source of lean high biological value protein, vitamin and mineral content, and “good” fat value from the omega-3 fatty acids makes it an excellent dietary choice.

Written by Dr. Sternlicht for on 09.06.05