Friday, April 11, 2008

DHA & EPA: Omega-3s for Healthy Hearts, Minds and More

People are becoming increasingly aware of how important omega-3 fatty acids are in promoting good cardiovascular health. In fact, the American Heart Association has endorsed omega-3 fatty acids for this benefit. The recommendation calls for about 1 gram each day in the combination of DHA and EPA. Although the American Heart Association's statement identified oily fish as an ideal source, they also noted that fish oil, either in capsule or liquid forms, was also an acceptable option. The data regarding cardiovascular events is extremely clear cut. There have been three large randomized placebo-controlled trials involving about 32,000 individuals, noting a reduction in cardiovascular events anywhere from 19% to 45% compared to the placebo groups.

Omega-3 fatty acids however do a lot more than maintain healthy heart function. In the March 2008 edition of the British journal Rheumatology1, researchers performed a double-blinded randomized controlled study in patients that had inflammation of the joints. A total of 97 patients participated and were randomized to receive either an effective dose of 2.2 grams of DHA/EPA (from 10 grams of cod liver oil) or placebo. The trial was conducted for a total of nine months. It was found that those patients given the fish oil reduced their daily intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) by more than 30% which was highly statistically significant. They noted that cod liver oil supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids could be used as an NSAID-sparing supplement in patients with inflammatory joint health concerns.

Another area of benefit is concerns poor mood. In the March 2008 edition of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry2, researchers enrolled 36 pregnant women to receive either 3.4 grams a day of omega-3 fatty acids or placebo for eight weeks. At the end of the study, those individuals given the omega-3 fatty acids had significantly better mood compared to the placebo group. They concluded that the omega-3 fatty acids may offer health benefits regarding poor mood during pregnancy.

Finally, there was another study just published in the April 2008 edition of the British Journal Dermatology3 that caught my attention. Fifty three patients with an allergic skin condition, ranging in age between 18 to 40 years old, were randomized to receive either 5.4 grams a day of DHA or a placebo agent for eight weeks. It was found that those individuals given DHA had a statistically significant clinical improvement in their skin conditions compared to placebo.

1. Galarraga B, Ho M, Youssef HM, Hill A, McMahon H, Hall C, Ogston S, Nuki G and Belch JJF, Cod liver oil (n-3 fatty acids) as an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug sparing agent in rheumatoid arthritis, Rheumatology, published online on March 24, 2008.

2. Su K, Huang S, Chiu T, Huang K, Huang C, Chang H, and Pariante C, Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Major Depressive Disorder During Pregnancy: Results From a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial, The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, March 18, 2008.

3. Koch C, Dölle S, Metzger M, Rasche C, Jungclas H, Rühl R, Renz H, Worm M, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in atopic eczema: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial, British Journal of Dermatology, Volume 158 Issue 4, Page 786-792, April 2008.

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