As you read in chapter 3, the omega-3 family of fatty acids forms the building blocks of many of the body's natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Fish oil supplements, which are typically produced from salmon oil, are especially rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosa-hexaenoic acid (DHA). Although both fatty acids are essential for health, EPA plays a more important role in the body's defenses against inflammation.
The advantage of taking fish oil or salmon oil capsules is simple: your body does not have to go through the many steps involved in converting alpha-linolenic acid (found in leafy green vegetables and flaxseed) to EPA and DHA. By taking capsules, you can leapfrog these steps and the poten tial bottlenecks that interfere with the conversion and help your body rapidly convert EPA to inflammation-suppressing eicosanoids.
Although you will read more about rheumatoid arthritis and os-teoarthritis in later chapters, these two conditions serve as excellent examples of how fish oils can benefit your health. Numerous studies have documented that diets high in either fish or fish oils improve the balance of fatty acids in tissues, raising levels of anti-inflammatory and lowering amounts of pro-inflammatory substances.
More than two thousand studies on omega-3 fatty acids have been published in medical journals, adding up to a wealth of persuasive data, and many studies have found that supplements and omega-3 rich foods can significantly reduce levels of several inflammation-promoting compounds in people: thromboxane B2, prostaglandin E2, interleukin-1, and C-reactive protein. In a very real sense, fish oils snuff out many of the matches of inflammation.
This anti-inflammatory effect of fish oils has been demonstrated over and over again. For example, in a Scottish study, researchers asked sixty-four men and women with rheumatoid arthritis to take daily fish oil capsules, containing a little more than 1.7 grams of EPA and 1 gram of DHA or a placebo (dummy pill) daily. After three months many of the patients taking the fish oil capsules benefited from reduced pain and were able to lower their intake of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). By the end of the year-long study, 40 percent of the patients taking fish oil capsules had been able to lower or eliminate their NSAIDs, reducing their risk of drug-related side effects.
Fish oils actually help rebuild articular cartilage. Bruce Caterson, Ph.D., of Cardiff University, Wales, led a team of molecular biologists who discovered specifically why fish oils reduce inflammation and inhibit the breakdown of cartilage, one of the characteristics of os-teoarthritis. Caterson first determined that chondrocytes, one of the key types of cells forming cartilage, readily absorbed alpha-linolenic acid (the parent omega-3 fatty acid) and displaced other fatty acids in the process. The same thing happened when he grew chondrocytes with EPA and DHA. But significantly, all of the omega-3 fatty acids deactivated "aggrecanases," a family of enzymes known to break down cartilage. The omega-3 fatty acids also stopped the genetic programming that increased levels of pro-inflammatory compounds, including inter-leukin-1 (IL-1), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa), and cyclooxyge-nase-2 (Cox-2).
Benefits of Omega-3 Fish Oils
• Reduce inflammation
• Natural, mild blood thinner
• Help maintain heart rhythm
• Reduce blood pressure
• Lower triglycerides
• Slow proliferation of cancer cells
• Improve mood disorders
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