(June 2012) — New research shows that omega-3 fatty acid supplements can lower inflammation in healthy, but overweight, middle-aged and older adults, suggesting that regular use of these supplements could help protect against and treat certain illnesses.
Four months of omega-3 supplementation decreased one protein in the blood that signals the presence of inflammation by an average of more than 10 percent, and led to a modest decrease in one other inflammation marker. In comparison, participants taking placebos as a group saw average increases of 36 percent and 12 percent, respectively, of those same markers
“Omega-3 fatty acids may be both protective so that inflammation doesn’t go up, as well as therapeutic by helping inflammation go down,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
“This is the first study to show that omega-3 supplementation leads to changes in inflammatory markers in the blood in overweight but otherwise healthy people. In terms of regulating inflammation when people are already healthy, this is an important study, in that it suggests one way to keep them healthy.”
The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, are referred to as essential fatty acids, since they must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with several benefits, including reducing inflammation and better nervous system function
Researchers from Columbia University in New York reviewed the literature regarding the relationship between omega-3 consumption and cardiovascular disease. They reported in the July 2006 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” that subjects consuming omega-3 supplements EPA and DHA experienced a decrease in all causes of mortality, cardiac death and sudden death.
People who eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may significantly lower their risk of developing memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease, a new study published in the May, 2012 Medical Journal of the American Academy of Neurology has found.
Researchers recruited 1,219 people over age 65, and followed their dietary habits for more than a year. Then they tested the subjects’ blood for a protein called beta-amyloid, a protein is associated with memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, plaques and tangles which are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients are actually clumps of this substance.
“We know that the amyloid mechanisms are out of control in a person with Alzeimer’s disease,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, associate professor of clinical neurology at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center.
“We wanted to see if different nutrients influenced those levels.”
Interestingly, the people in the study who consumed omega-3 had significantly lower levels of amyloid in their blood.
The effects are continuous researchers say. The levels decreased by 20-to 30% for each gram of omega-3 fatty acid added to their diet.
“The more you eat, the lower the amyloid level will be,” said Scarmeas.
Omega-3 was the only nutrient that showed an association with lower amyloid levels.
Frequently cited in subsequent research, the Oxford-Durham Study was published in “Pediatrics” in May 2005 and concluded that fatty acid supplementation resulted in specific improvements in school children when compared to study subjects using placebo. In fact, after three months of fatty acid supplementation, the number of children who met the clinical diagnosis criteria for ADHD dropped from 32 percent to 18 percent. The research team later announced, in March 2006, similar results from a trial with students aged 12 to 15 years. Another study that used the Oxford-Durham study for a reference was smaller in scope, with only 75 subjects, but aimed specifically at ADHD, rather than related conditions as did the Oxford-Durham. These Swedish researchers concluded that a “meaningful” reduction in ADHD symptoms was observed after three months of supplementation with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Increasing a child’s diet with foods rich with omega-3 fatty acids may improve the behavioral symptoms associated with ADHD. Dr. G. Paul Amminger, M.D., from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Medical University of Vienna, researched omega-3′s impact on children with autism and found that increased omega-3 supplementation helped improve behavioral issues. The emerging research suggests that it may also help improve the behaviors of children with ADHD. “Mood and Food” states that low omega-3 levels in boys contributes to increased temper tantrums, behavioral problems and sleep difficulties. “Eating for Autism” also states that omega-3 reduces aggressive behaviors, decreases impulsivity and improves hyperactivity.
Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Consuming omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of obesity and developing type 2 diabetes. Research by scientists at the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, Australia, and published in the January 2011 issue of “International Journal of Pediatric Obesity” discovered that lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids from diet are associated with a greater prevalence of obese children and higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower prevalence of obese children. The research also found that blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with fasting insulin levels, whereby higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids are correlated with lower risk of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The research concludes that the association between omega-3 fatty acids and weight and insulin resistance in children is important in the prevention of obesity-related chronic diseases in later life
The results of a clinical study published in the “Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition” in March 2010 show that omega-3 fatty acids help to alleviate joint tenderness in RA patients. The study also found that omega-3 fatty acids reduce swelling. Research published in the “Bangladesh Medical Research Council Bulletin” in August 2009 also shows that omega-3 fatty acids may boost the effects of indomethacin, a prescription medicine sometimes prescribed for RA.
A 2004 study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh measured the effects of taking omega-3 fatty acids in 120 patients who experience neck and lower back pain, according to Pittsburgh’s “The Tribune-Review.” The study found that 59 percent of patients reported decreased joint pain while 68 percent ceased using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Also, 86 percent of the patients reported they intended to continue taking omega-3 supplements following the study. While more research should be conducted, the study shows some promise in using omega-3 fatty acids as an alternative to traditional pain medications
Although the exact mechanism for how DHA enhances brain function remains an area of study, the onset of mental disorders is linked to a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids. The research published in “Nature” links an omega-3 deficiency to attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Increasing DHA levels may improve the ability of the brain cell membrane to conduct electrical impulses or it may stimulate the metabolism of the brain cells therefore increasing the usage of glucose providing more energy for the cells to use
Maternal Deficiency and Anxiety
Spanish researchers reporting in the January 2011 issue of “Nature Neuroscience” theorized that maternal dietary deficiency of omega-3s during gestation may influence synaptic activity in offspring, resulting in mood disorders. To test their hypothesis, they studied mice which had been fed a life-long diet deficient in omega-3s. The researchers discovered that the offspring of the deficient mice lacked cannabinoid receptors that play a major role in synaptic communications. The synaptic dysfunction was accompanied by anxious behaviors in the malnourished mice.
DHA, also known as docosahexaenoic acid, is a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in food sources. This omega-3 might offer some benefits to many health conditions, and research indicates a possible benefit for retinitis pigmentosa. In 2004, Eliot L. Berson, M.D., and colleagues evaluated the benefits of DHA use on slowing down the progression of retinitis pigmentosa. The study determined that a diet rich in DHA omega-3 fatty acids may have a beneficial effect for people with this disease.
Your macula is located in the center of the retina, lining the inside, back chamber of your eye. Cells make up the macular tissue, and if these cells break down, usually with age, this will result in a condition known as macular degeneration. You will experience vision loss in the center of your vision, making visual tasks, such as reading or driving, difficult or impossible. In advanced stages, also known as wet macular degeneration, macular damage may result in blindness. Primary research indicates that omega-3 may protect the macula from damage and reduce your risk for this condition. As of 2010, the National Eye Institute is continuing a study to evaluate the specific effects of omega-3 on age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration.
Retinopathy is a condition of the retina that occurs when damage occurs to the retina’s blood vessels. This often causes permanent damage to the retina, resulting in vision changes. Many diabetics have a condition called diabetic retinopathy, a condition that results when high blood glucose levels damage the blood vessels of the retina. Advanced cases may lead to partial or complete vision loss. In 2007, the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, reported that dietary intake of omega-3 intake may help prevent damage to the retinal vessels, reducing the risk for retinopathy.
Scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark studied the relationship between omega-3 intake and severity of menstrual symptoms in women. In the report, which was published in the July 1995 issue of the “European Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” researchers discovered that subjects with the highest omega-3 intake experienced milder menstrual symptoms compared with those with the lowest omega-3 intake.
New Chia Research
According to a study from the University of Southern Queensland in Australia published March 2011 in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, one teaspoon of chia each day can benefit heart and liver health and can help improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. In the study, when chia was fed to obese rats along with a high fat, high carbohydrate diet, researchers found that chia helped reduce heart and liver inflammation and induced harmful transfats to move away from these vital organs, allowing other healthier fats to take their place and be used by these organs to create energy. Chia also helped bring glucose levels down to normal at a much faster rate, offering a great benefit to those with type-2 diabetes.
Another unique property of chia is that it’s highly hydrophilic and turns into a gel when exposed to liquids, which can help slow the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar. Additionally, the gelling quality makes it a great thickening agent for food processing. It can also be used in gluten-free formulations to provide moisture and a more pleasing texture. Chia gel has even been used by some to replace a portion of butter or oil in a recipe, offering yet another healthy benefit to incorporating this superseed in one’s diet.
Omega-3 and Breast Health
Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Effects on Eye Health