Saturday, December 25, 2010

How fish oils add years to your life (and take years off your face!)

There seems to be no end to the benefits of fish oils. Not only are they said to boost heart, brain and joint health, but they also prevent cancer, eye disease and bone problems.
Last week, a new study suggested they could assist the body against premature ageing. But how do you separate the facts from the hype? PETA BEE asked the experts...
Fish oils contain the essential omega oils, which we only get through our diet
Cure oil or something fishy? Fish oils contain the essential omega fatty acids, which we only get through our diet
Fish oils are a type of polyunsaturated fat - a 'healthy' fat. Unlike saturated animal fats, they don't raise your cholesterol levels, but are known to have a positive effect on health.
Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two groups of what are called Essential Fatty Acids (or EFAs) - omega-3 and omega-6.
Both omegas are essential in helping to regulate blood clotting, body temperature, blood pressure and the immune system; they are also needed to make prostaglandins, important hormone-like chemicals in the body. The only way we can get them is through our diet.
Omega-3 has particular benefits, producing vital substances such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), thought to play a key role in the development of brain and cognitive function, and EPA ( eicosapentaenoic acid), vital for brain health.
The richest source of omega-3s are fish oils - salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna and herring.
While most Britons consume more than enough omega-6 oils (found in most edible oils, but particularly sunflower and corn, as well as meat), they are deficient in omega-3.
There have been a number of studies suggesting fish oils boost heart health, but the most compelling evidence was a study last year published in the Journal Of The American College Of Cardiology.
Led by Dr Carl Lavie, of the Ochsner Cardiology Clinic in Louisiana, the study showed omega-3 oils help to prevent blood clotting and regulate or lower blood pressure.
The strongest heart-protective effect is for patients with established cardiovascular disease, the study found.
Fish oils help protect your brain against Alzheimer's disease but won't boost your mind power in a test
Brain food? Teenagers taking exams. Fish oils help protect your brain against Alzheimer's disease but won't boost your mind power in a test
'This isn't just hype - we now have tremendous and compelling evidence from very large studies, some dating back 20 and 30 years,' Dr Lavie said.
Under guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), doctors are encouraged to prescribe supplements to patients after they have had a heart attack to prevent repeat attacks.
There has been great interest in the fish oil effect on the brain - both in preventing disease and boosting brain power.
Studies have shown, for instance, that DHA can reduce the formation of plaques in the brain; these have been linked to Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Too little omega-3 has been linked to mild depression, and there is some evidence that fish oils may help here.
DHA has been shown to boost foetal brain development.
However, parents who feed their children fish oil supplements before exams might be wasting their money, as the evidence for fish oils boosting intelligence and exam performance is tenuous.
Eating oily fish once a week has been shown to protect against age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in the older generation.
They might also be helpful in the fight against some forms of cancer.
Last year, Professor John Witte, from the University of California, suggested a high intake of omega-3s reduced men's risk of prostate cancer by about 60 per cent. There is some evidence, too, that a regular consumption of omega-3s can help prevent bowel cancer.
One study suggests fish oils help to keep you looking youthful
Anti-ageing? One study suggests fish oils help to keep you looking youthful
Last week researchers from the University of California suggested omega-3s - whether from supplements or fish - helped cells
in the body live longer. When they studied heart disease patients, they found the more omega-3 the subjects ate, the slower the damage to the DNA in their cells.
That, in turn, meant better protection against inflammation and the ageing process.
So will fish oils help you live longer - and look younger?
Heather Yuregir, a researcher at the British Nutrition Foundation, says it's possible, although more evidence is needed to confirm the anti-ageing effect.

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