Health Benefits of Omega-3 Oils

Frost & Sullivan, in 2010 and 2011 market reports on fish and algal omega-3 oils, noted that diets rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease. More specifically increased dietary EPA and DHA is associated with a decreased risk of sudden death and arrhythmia, decreased incidence of blood clots, decreased triglyceride levels, decreased atherosclerotic plaque growth, improved arterial health and lower blood pressure. In addition, EPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory properties which contribute to lower incidence of chronic conditions such as atherosclerosis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Frost & Sullivan reported that more than 14,000 scientific papers have been published on EPA and DHA omega-3, which greatly enhances the credibility of these as vital functional food ingredients. Omega-3 oils from marine animals and algae are known to improve an increasing variety of disease outcomes.

Dietary deficiencies caused by our modern industrialised lifestyle are known to cause a number of diseases and abnormalities, consequently supplements are used to prevent an increasing number of diseases such as neural tube defects (folic acid) and osteoporosis (calcium). However, deficiency in long-chain EPA and DHA omega-3s present in fish and algae may be even more widespread in its prevalence and more devastating in its consequences, possibly due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health reported in 2009 that omega-3 deficient diets cause up to 96,000 preventable deaths annually in the United States, and by inference 6,800 in Australia. This and numerous other studies in recent years has increased awareness of the benefits of boosting dietary omega-3 oils by eating more oily fish or taking fish or algal oil supplements.

Many diseases may be triggered or exacerbated by dietary deficiency in EPA and DHA. Below are several conditions that that medical researchers have found may be prevented, delayed or treated by increasing the dietary intake of EPA and DHA.

Heart disease

The role of omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular disease is well established. Clinical evidence suggests that EPA and DHA reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing high cholesterol and lowering high blood pressure and blood triglycerides They also appear to slow the development of atherosclerotic plaques and blood clots.


Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can help lower triglycerides and apoproteins (markers of diabetes), and raise HDL in the blood, so taking EPA and DHA may help people with diabetes.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. A number of studies suggest that EPA and DHA supplementation helps to reduce symptoms of RA, including joint pain and morning stiffness, but does not appear to slow progression of the disease.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterised by fatigue and joint pain. Several studies suggest that EPA and DHA fish oil may help reduce the symptoms of lupus.


Many studies have shown that people who took omega-3 fatty acids in addition to prescription antidepressants had a greater improvement in symptoms than those who took antidepressants alone. Other studies show that omega-3 fatty acid intake helps protect against post-partum depression.

Bipolar disorder

Studies have suggested that people with bipolar disorder who took EPA and DHA in addition to standard prescription treatments for bipolar disorder for 4 months experienced fewer mood swings and relapse than those who received placebo.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD affects about 10 million children in the United States. Children with ADHD often have low levels of DHA, which may trigger learning and behavioural problems. Recent research findings indicate that an increased red blood cell level of DHA is associated with improved reading, spelling and lower parent ratings of oppositional behaviour, hyperactivity and restlessness.

Cognitive and mobility decline

A recent study  of 1,219 people over the age of 65 who were free of dementia suggests that blood levels of a protein related to Alzheimer's disease and memory problems are lowered by consuming more omega-3 fatty acids.

During healthy ageing, muscle size is reduced by 0.5-2% per year. This process - known as sarcopenia - can result in frailty and immobility in old people. A 2012 trial showed that women aged over 65 who received omega-3 fatty acids gained almost twice as much muscle strength following exercise than those taking olive oil.

Asthma & eczema

A study reported in 2012 of 700 pregnancies showed that when their mothers consumed omega-3 oil the risk of infants developing eczema was reduced by 36%, sensitisation to eggs by 38% and egg allergy by 50%. Follow-up studies are required to determine if omega-3 supplementation in pregnant women is beneficial as an allergy prevention strategy.

Macular Degeneration

A questionnaire given to more than 3,000 people over the age of 49 found that those who ate more fish were less likely to have macular degeneration (a serious age related eye condition that can progress to blindness) than those who ate less fish. Similarly, a clinical study comparing 350 people with macular degeneration to 500 without the eye disease found that those with a healthy dietary balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and more fish in their diets were less likely to have macular degeneration.

Colon cancer

Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids seems to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. For example, Eskimos, who tend to have a high fat diet, but eat significant amounts of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, have a low rate of colorectal cancer. Animal studies and laboratory studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids prevent worsening of colon cancer.

Breast cancer

High levels of DHA as measured in red blood cell membranes, are associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. A 2010 study of 35,000 middle-aged women found that the women who took EPA + DHA supplements had a 32% lower risk of breast cancer, although the authors stress the result is preliminary and falls short of establishing a causal relationship.

Prostate cancer

Population based studies of groups of men suggest that a diet high in EPA and DHA helps prevent the development of prostate cancer. This link appears to be most apparent in those individuals with a genetic tendency towards developing the disease.

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