by Sean Keenan
We have all heard of fish oils and Omega-3s, but what benefit do they provide and why should we be consuming them on a regular basis? Let’s take a look at the role they play in maintaining the integrity of and repairing damage to hair, skin and nails.
Firstly, what is Omega-3 and where does it come from?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids essential to human health and play an important role throughout the life cycle. They are broken down into EPA, DHA, DPA & ALA.
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) is a long chain omega-3 predominantly found in oily fish and is beneficial for reducing inflammation and helps to manage and reduce the risk of heart disease.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is considered the most beneficial long chain omega-3. It is especially important for brain growth and visual development of the unborn baby and studies have shown it helps to manage and reduce the risk of heart disease. DHA is predominantly found in oily fish and algal oil.
DPA (Docosapentaenoic acid) is the predominant long chain omega-3 found in lean red meat. DPA has been less well studied yet the evidence available suggests DPA has similar heart-health benefits to EPA and DHA.
ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) is a ‘shorter chain omega-3’, which is important for health, yet is poorly converted in the body to the more beneficial long chain omega-3s. Food sources of ALA include canola and linseed (or flaxseed) oils, chia seeds, soybeans, walnuts and green vegetables.
Oily fish sources include salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel and barramundi. Other sources include various white fish and seafood varieties (oysters, squid, mussels, scallops etc.), lean red meat, and some “omega-3 enriched” foods like eggs, bread, milk, and yoghurt which have had omega-3 fatty acids added to them.
Populations that consume large amounts of fish (such as the Inuit & Japanese) tend to have a lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and many other chronic diseases.
While it is always advisable to get a complete nutrient intake from whole foods, the most potent and therefore most effective source of omega-3 comes in the form of fish-oil supplements either as an oil or oil in capsules. There are dozens of brands on the market which can be found in health stores, pharmacies and supermarkets but the quality of the oil can vary greatly. When looking at the quality of fish oil, you need to take into consideration the source of the fish and the conditions in which they live (i.e. the fish-farming practices), the manufacturing & filtering process, and whether or not there is quality-controlled testing for heavy metals such as mercury. Ask the staff at Vive which brands produce high-quality fish oil from the living fish to the oil you find on the shelf. As everyone’s personal requirements are different, and depending on whether you are treating a specific illness or practicing a maintenance program, the dosage quantities will vary.
When purchasing an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, remember that these oils are highly sensitive to damage from heat, light and oxygen. Choose a certified organic product that has been refrigerated and is packaged in a dark brown or green glass jar and be sure to store the product in your refrigerator. It is also advisable to choose a supplement that contains vitamin E as vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant which is added to the oil to prevent the fatty acids from becoming oxidized (or rancid).
Physiologically speaking, every cell in our body is surrounded by a cell membrane composed mainly of fatty acids. The cell membrane allows the proper amounts of necessary nutrients to enter the cell, and ensures that waste products are quickly removed from the cell. All dietary fatty acids are incorporated into cell membranes, and the type of fatty acids dictates how a cell responds and grows. Remember that saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while omega-3 fats are liquid at room temperature. Therefore, diets containing large amounts of saturated or hydrogenated fats produce cell membranes that are hard and lack fluidity, while diets rich in omega-3 fats produce cell membranes with a high degree of fluidity. Cells without a healthy membrane lose their ability to hold water and other vital nutrients and they also lose their ability to communicate with other cells. The health of the cells and their membranes is crucial to cell replication and tissue regeneration which is constantly occurring for the growth of hair, skin and nails. When cells are nourished, the tissues of which they are collectively made also appear nourished and healthy, resulting in smoother skin and stronger nails & hair, thus preventing the “ageing” effect.
Omega-3 fats also play an important role in the production of powerful hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help regulate many important physiological functions including blood pressure, blood clotting, nerve transmission, the inflammatory and allergic responses, the functions of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, and the production of other hormones.
A recently identified lipid (fat) product our bodies make from EPA, called resolvins, helps explain how this omega-3 fat provides anti-inflammatory effects and improves blood flow. Resolvins work by inhibiting the production of and regulating the migration of inflammatory cells and chemicals to inflammation sites. Unlike anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and COX-2 inhibitors, the resolvins our bodies produce from EPA do not have negative side effects on our gastrointestinal or cardiovascular systems.
Individuals who have disorders involving bleeding, who bruise very easily, or who are taking blood thinners should consult with a medical practitioner before taking supplemental omega-3 fatty acids.
Therapeutically, omega-3 supplementation is invaluable in the treatment and prevention of many inflammatory skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis as it reduces inflammation and allergic responses, regulates nerve transmission, strengthens cell integrity and improves cardiovascular delivery of nutrients throughout the body. This will also serve to reverse conditions such as dry, brittle nails and hair by aiding the cell replication and regeneration process.
So, give yourself a makeover from the grassroots, cellular level and improve the quality and appearance of your hair, skin and nails.
If you have any thoughts, ideas or uses for fish oil that you have found useful for yourself why not let us know.
by Sean Keenan