Omega 3 Fatty Acids for healthy heart and brain
What are omega 3 fatty acids and why should I need them?
Omega- 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids meaning they are necessary for cell health yet our bodies cannot manufacture them. We must therefore get omega 3 fatty acids from our diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are important for general health and are thought to play a role in the development and maintenance of brain health brain cells. There are three important types including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosaheaenoic acid (DHA). Your body does turn ALA into DHA and EPA.
How does Omega 3s help Parkinson’s?
Omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease, arthritis, and some types of cancer. At the present there is no direct connection between PD and omega 3 fatty acids[i]. However, researchers at the Universite of Laval found that mice fed an omega 3s rich diet, had a less dopamine cell death when exposed to the neurotoxin MPTP. The authors suggest that DHA deficiency can be a risk for developing parkinsonism. Despite the fact that this conclusion is premature, there is growing evidence to support the role of these important fatty acids in human brain health. A small placebo controlled study suggested that signs of depression improved in PD patients on fish oil tablets regardless of whether they were taking an antidepressant. Other brain conditions may show benefit as well[ii]. These compounds are highly concentrated in the human brain and research suggests that omega 3 fatty acids reduce the risk or symptoms of brain disorders such as stroke, depression, memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and ADHD.
How can I add omega 3 to my diet?
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, halibut and tuna. Other foods include some forms of algae, flax seed, canola oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds and purslane. Walnuts are high in ALA which can be turned into DHA and EPA by your body. Most American diets simply do not include enough omega 3 fatty acids.
Supplements such as fish oil tabs are recommended if you do not eat fish 3 times a week. Look for a supplement that contains both EPA and DHA. Dosing depends more on the levels of these compounds than the total amount of fish oil. There are no general guidelines for how much fish oil you should take. The American heart Association recommends 1 -2 grams EPA and DHA for people with heart disease (read all labels carefully as this amount is different than the total amount of fish oil often printed on the main label)
Are there any risks to taking omega 3 fatty acids?
If you are allergic to fish, look for a source of omega 3 that comes from another source such as flax seed. High doses (greater than 3 grams or more than 3 servings of fish a day) can cause excessive bleeding so talk to your doctor before adding fish oil tablets to your diet. This is especially important if you are on aspirin clopidogrel (Plavix), a blood thinner such as warfarin or planning to have surgery. As always, it is important to choose your supplements carefully. The supplement you select should be pure and devoid of toxins (commonly found in fish) such as mercury and lead. It is important to talk to your doctor about how much fish you can eat if you are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid toxic levels of mercury found in some fish. Children are also at risk for high levels of these contaminants. Refer to section Shopping for vitamins and supplements for tips on making the best chose for your health.
[i] Federation of American Societies for Experimental biology. Nov 21 2007 Online edition
Journal of Affective Disorders. 2008 111(2-3): 315-9.
Author: Monique Giroux, MD Medical Director NWPF and Booth Gardner Parkinson's Care Center, Kirkland, WA