Dr John Briffa: Fishing for supplements

My weekly trawl through the scientific literature quite often brings in evidence for the health-promoting properties of the fats found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardine. Studies show that these so-called omega-3 fats help keep at bay a range of ailments, including depression, hyperactivity, heart disease and cancer. However, despite their healthy haul, fish oils are not for everyone: I get a steady stream of letters from individuals who don't eat fish, and want to know how they might compensate for the fishy favours they appear to be missing out on. This week, I have resolved to rise to the bait, and offer some advice on boosting omega-3 intake to those not hooked into the idea of eating fish.

One option for those who do not partake of fish suppers is to get their omega-3 fats in supplement form. Both fish oil supplements (derived from the flesh of fish) and cod-liver oil are rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) - the two omega-3 fats thought to provide the bulk of the benefits associated with eating oily fish. In fact, studies suggest that fish oil supplementation has effects similar to those ascribed to the consumption of oily fish and has been shown to protect against heart disease and depression. One tsp of cod-liver oil or 4g of fish oil each day will provide the body with doses of EPA and DHA that are likely to be beneficial in the long term.

Obviously, fish-oil supplements are not an option for vegans, some vegetarians and those who are allergic to fish. But the good news is that the body can make DHA and EPA from a form of omega-3 fat found in some nut and seed oils known as alpha linolenic acid (ALA). Studies show that only a relatively small proportion of any ALA taken into the body will make the conversion into DHA or EPA. However, even if this is true, the evidence suggests that ALA has benefits for the body in its own right. It appears to be able to 'thin' the blood, lower blood pressure and help maintain a normal heart rhythm, and studies have found an association between higher intakes of ALA and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

One foodstuff that contains a very rich stash of ALA is flaxseed (linseed) oil. Supplementation with flaxseed oil (available in health food stores) at a dose of about 1 tbsp a day offers plenty in the way of ALA, and may well swell levels of DHA and EPA in the body, too. Apart from its healthy properties for the heart and circulation, another of flaxseed oil's effects is to help maintain moisture in the skin. This body benefit has significance at this time of year in that flaxseed oil is useful in combating the dryness in the skin induced by wintry weather. Daily supplementation with flaxseed oil represents a viable alternative to those wanting to get the benefits of fish oil - without a catch.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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