28 December 2007

Omega-3: Something Smells Fishy, What’s all the Hype About?

Omega-3: what is it, you ask? Where is it? Is it friendly? Why won’t everyone shut up about it, I mean fish really aren’t that interesting? Fear not children for all the essentials shall be revealed in this brief article.

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. There, now that we have the technical definition sorted we can get down to business. Omega-3 is a type of fat, and one which is commonly associated for most people with seafood. Seafood often contains abundant amounts of omega-3 particularly certain fish such as Tuna and Salmon. It is also contained within various plant sources, most notably some nuts like: walnuts, flax seeds and hemp seeds. It is also found in small quantities in dark green leafy vegetables. Foods like broccoli and kale are, believe it or not, sources of Omega 3. Because of their low caloric levels however, large amounts must be eaten to obtain decent amounts of it.

Now there is currently a lot of hype around omega-3 and its benefits. Why exactly is this? Well until recently fat was severely stigmatised by nutritionists and the public alike. Only recently are we starting to realise that there are different types of fats which in fact play different roles and have differing effects upon the body. Omega-3 in particular has had some very interesting health benefits recorded.

Ironically enough when I first starting typing the idea for this article yesterday lunch I was eating tuna at the time. I certainly had a good smirk about it. Yet as I do the final edit of this article this morning there lies a copy of the Australian edition of the “Clinical Psychiatry News” (Vol. 3, No. 6) and despite it still being wrapped in plastic I can see on the front page a picture of some nice looking cooked fish and an article called “Postartum Depression” – the subheading simply says ‘Fish and omega-3 fatty acids may help manage postpartum depression.” Trust me Omega-3 is big at the minute, and with good reason, it seems to be having some remarkable results in scientific studies, lets investigate shall we.

Omega-3 is probably best known for its fat burning ability. Research has shown that it elevates the amount of fat burnt, particularly if it is taken after exercise. (For a related links see: http://www.fishoilblog.com/benefits/fish-oil-exercise-fat-loss.php)

Omega-3 has also been shown to help with cholesterol levels (as have other polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats [known as the “good” fats], but omega-3 seems to do so even better than other “good” fats) by lowering blood triglyceride levels and increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), in turn reducing risk of heart attack. It has also been shown to help lower blood pressure, and even to help cancer (here a reference for the unbelievers: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060920092447.htm)

But the benefits of omega-3 don’t end there, it gets even better! Studies on the effects of Omega-3 on the brain have yielded fascinating results. It seems that it can potentially help with a whole spectrum of mental problems from depression to schizophrenia, even problems like ADHD can be solved or at least the symptoms reduced by simple Omega-3 supplementation!

Why is this so you might ask? Simply put our brain is made up of cell membranes which are coated in a lipid solution (that is to say fat – lipid is the scientific name for fat), thus it makes sense that eating more fat gives your more structural material with which the body can build its structural links within the brain. However obviously not all fats are equal here as most westerners still eat tons of saturated fat, but don’t get these amazing effects. As I addressed in a recent article called "Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as well as Potentially Life Threatening:” the type of fat you consume does matter, as it is utilised differently by the body. Think of it almost as different grades of material. Lets say you want to build a house and you’ve got one really strong durable wood and another really crappy weak and prone to rot wood, which would you use? Providing your intention was that the house was durable and lasted a while you’d use the better material. Now think of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as higher grade materials for your brain to build itself with, whereas saturated fats and even worse, trans fats, are more like crappy material. There, now that I’ve gotten a really shite metaphor out of this article I may continue with the knowledge of a world of good done and another literary masterpiece accomplished.

Now honestly I’m not making all this stuff up, I am not prone to misinformation, so here’s one of a myriad of sources that essentially argue a similar line to myself: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s1691896.htm.

It may seem unlikely that fish oil could help Thomas control his ADHD, but our brains are literally swimming in fat. Most of it’s in the cell membrane, and high levels of Omega 3 allow the brain cells to transmit electrical signals more effectively.
So could increasing your Omega 3 intake influence the very way we think and behave? At CSIRO Human Nutrition in
Adelaide, Natalie Sinn is attempting to find this out. She recruited 130 children with learning and behaviour difficulties, and set them tasks to test their attention. After more than 6 months on 6 fish oil capsules a day, around half the children showed improvement.

It seems grandma was always right when she said eat your fish it’ll make you brainy. However the stereotype of fish being dumb seems to be dwindling. All those stories you were told about fish having 3 second memories… they seem to be unfounded fishist comments… damn those fishists. Ironically scientists now think fish aren’t so dumb after all:


At very least they're tasty and seem to be very good four our brains! I personally think everyone should either eat fish several times a week, or take fish oil supplements, if not both!

Some relevant links:


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