Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that omega-3 deficiency is the sixth highest cause of death in the United States, accounting for 72,000 to 96,000 deaths per year (1). This is higher than the number of breast cancer deaths, which are estimated at around 40,000 deaths per year. Shocking news, isn't it?
The perks of this shiny golden liquid, which was part of our ancestors' wisdom, have long been documented in scientific literature. In the 1930s, Dr. Weston Price successfully used cod liver oil along with other nutrients to cure tooth decay (here); and modern research has time after time emphasized the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on brain health, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, cancer, as well as maternal and child health.
Types of omega-3 fatty acids
EPA and DHA are two types of Omega-3s that are mainly found in fish oil. On the other hand, ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) is a plant-based omega-3 that is primarily found in chia seeds, flaxseed and hemp.
Our cellular health is much more dependent on EPA and DHA than on ALA. EPA is known to support the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response, while DHA is well documented for its role in supporting the brain, eyes, and central nervous system. Although our body has the ability to convert ALA into both, this is only done in very small amounts, rendering fish oil supplementation a must.
Fish oil and brain health
When it comes to brain and neurological health, fish oil runs the gamut. Researchers at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience found that fish oil supplements improve attention, hyperactivity, as well as other behavioral and cognitive symptoms in children with ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (2). They also found that children and adolescents with ADHD had lower blood levels of omega-3 compared to their healthy counterparts.
Fish oil is found to be equally important to pregnant and lactating women. A report that combined results from several studies concluded that supplementing pregnant women and newborns with omega-3s were found to raise children's IQ by 3.5 points (3).
Omega-3s were also proven beneficial for Alzheimer's disease patients who witnessed an increased blood flow in specific areas of their brains after supplementing fish oil.
The positive effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain is attributed to their highly anti-inflammatory nature and the fact that they are a component of the brain cell wall, which means that their presence helps the brain repair itself.
Fish oil and breast cancer
In a study to compare the cancer-fighting effect of both marine-derived and plant-derived omega-3s on breast cancer, a research team from the University of Guelph, Canada, exposed a group of mice that were bred to develop HER2-Positive cancer, which is one of the most aggressive types of cancer, to one of the three types of omega-3s from before birth. The mice that were exposed to the fish oil-derived omega-3s EPA and DHA experienced a 60–70 percent reduction in tumor size, as well as a 30 percent decrease in the number of breast tumors (4).
The team found that EPA and DHA were eight times more effective at preventing the development of breast cancer tumors than ALA.
Fish Oil and autoimmune disease
Autoimmune disease patients can reap the benefits of fish oil as well. A number of Clinical trials that were carried out to assess the benefits of fish oil supplementation in a number of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches reported a decrease in disease activity, as well as a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs (5).
Things to remember from this post
- Omega-3 deficiency accounts for around 100,000 deaths in the United States every year
- EPA and DHA are marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids, while ALA is plant-derived
- Children and adolescents with ADHD had lower blood levels of omega-3s
- Fish oil supports development of fetuses and newborns' brain and nervous systems
- Marine-derived omega-3s are eight times more effective that plant-derived omega-3s at preventing breast cancer
- Fish oil can help reduce disease activity, as well as dependency on anti-inflammatory drugs among autoimmune disease sufferers
How to choose your cod liver oil? Read here.
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