Do Omega-3 Fats Support Heart Health?

Researchers found that omega-3 fat supplementation was not associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, writes Suzanne Dixon.

A review of existing research and reanalysis of certain studies on omega-3 fats and heart health has resulted in a surprising finding: The review calls into question the long-standing positive association between heart health and fish oil supplementation. The focus of the analysis was omega-3 supplements rather than dietary sources.

Fishing for better health

In this study, heart and vascular health was measured by longevity: death due to any cause (all-cause mortality), cardiac death, or sudden death due to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Researchers pooled results from 20 previous studies of a total 68,680 adults in a statistical method called meta-analysis. All of the studies included in the meta-analysis were clinical trials in which some of the participants were given omega-3 fat supplements and others were given a placebo (containing no omega-3s).

Researchers found that omega-3 fat supplementation was not associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, myocardial infarction, or stroke. For all of the conditions other than stroke, the results trended in the direction of fish oil supplements protecting against cardiovascular disease, though these results weren’t statistically significant. For stroke, the result trended in the direction of suggesting more harm than benefit from omege-3 fat supplements, though again, results were not statistically significant.

Putting results in context

Why do omega-3s have a heart-healthy reputation? While the results of the meta-analysis demonstrate that the relationship between fish oil and heart health is more complicated than previously thought, keep in mind that, among other heart-related benefits, fish oil has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and high triglycerides, both considered markers for heart disease risk. And studies have consistently associated fish-rich diets, such as the Mediterranean-style diet, with better cardiovascular health.

It should also be considered that of the 3,635 studies assessed, just 20 made the cut for the meta-analysis. Studies are often eliminated because a study’s design makes it difficult to compare with other studies, but they may still be relevant to the larger question of a supplement’s efficacy. Of the more than 3,600 other studies on omega-3 fat that were not included in the review, many support health benefits of taking omega-3 fat supplements.

Cutting through the confusion

So what’s a health-conscious consumer to do? Before deciding whether or not omega-3 supplements are right for you, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Why would I want to boost omega-3s? Omega-3s have shown positive effects in other conditions, including hypertension, anxiety, depression, eczema, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Crohn’s disease. If heart disease is your concern, talk to your doctor about all of the things you can do to reduce risk. Omega-3 supplements may have a place in your heart health plan, but exercising and eating right are the more important first-line defences everyone should consider.
  • What are the downsides of supplementing omega-3s? This study found a trend toward increased risk of stroke in people taking omega-3 supplements—because the results were not statistically significant, however, it’s not clear, based on this study, what recommendations should be made.
  • What are the downsides of not getting enough omega-3s? People take omega-3 supplements for a variety of reasons. If you feel omega-3 supplements provide some health benefit, it may be worth it to keep taking them. Ask your doctor if you’re uncertain.
  • Can I get omega-3s from food? In addition to cold-water fish—such as salmon, sardines, halibut, pollock, and cod—plenty of foods contain omega-3 fats, including linseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and other nuts and seeds. Though most of the evidence showing EPA-DHA benefit has been with fish oil, there are other health benefits of including plant sources of omega-3 fats.

(JAMA 2012;Vol 308:1024–33)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognised expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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Pure herbal remedies are available for everyday complaints

When i was going through a tough time I really appreciated Bio-Health’s St John’s Wort and I guess I’m a bit of a fan of the brand now.

They make 100% additive free herbal medicinal products as well as other herbal remedies and vitamin supplements.

We’re extending their range at GoodnessDirect with more herbals such as cinnamon bark, said to reduce stomach spasms, flatulence and menstrual cramps; celery seed, believed to benefit by eliminating water retention, reducing inflammation and regulating blood pressure; or melissa (lemon balm) leaf, traditionally favoured for nervous disorders such as depression, anxiety and palpitations.

Herbal remedies don’t pretend to replace medicines, but they are useful for everyday self-limiting conditions. Bio-Health ensure those who prefer natural solutions get the quality, safety and efficacy they rightly deserve.

Why I can’t diet without a good night’s sleep

If you’re planning to lose weight in the new year but you haven’t got your sleep sorted you’re starting with a serious disadvantage.

At least that’s my experience. If I don’t sleep my self control when it comes to food is wrecked. I just can’t stop feeling hungry.

We need to be getting 7.5 hours of good sleep. If it’s not restful or it’s a shorter night, then the metabolism is slower and, chemically, you’ll feel hungrier – two great ingredients for a failed diet. And, when you think about it, the fact that you’re tired is also less likely to motivate you to get any exercise done.

So, sort your sleep out first.

Sleep helps dieting
Sleep helps dieting

A good night’s sleep increases the amount of leptin hormone in your body – which tells you when to stop eating. Less sleep means more of the ghrelin hormone which tells you to eat more! It’s a vicious circle, bad sleep = lack of energy = eating more carbs = lethargy = no exercise = restless sleep.

It’s a good idea to learn some good sleeping habits.

To help regulate your sleep (especially of you know you’re about to have a bad night) you may want to try a herbal sleeping aid.

These come in two strengths:
a lighter version such as Kalms Sleep which will help you get a good rest during sleep (1 tablet =  45mg of valerian)
a stronger variety like Kalms Night for the occasional night when you can’t sleep (1 tablet = 500mg of valerian)

(Kalms do also make a new formula Day version for the relief of stress and anxiety for you herbal fans out there.)

The use of natural ingredients such as hops, passion flower, valerian and lettuce makes a lot of sense to me – these are traditional ingredients well known for their ability to induce sleep and are used by a lot of other herbal companies. If by helping me sleep better it means they also help contribute to weight loss in the long run then that’s no bad thing.

SAD, Sleep and Seasonal Blues

Do your moods take a dive in the winter? Finding it hard to sleep? Don’t despair! You’re not alone, and there is hope…

People have been talking about “SAD” for about ten years now, and it’s generally well recognised that people’s moods can take a dive in the winter. According to the SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) Association, half a million people suffer from this condition every winter between September and April, in particular during December, January and February. It’s important to distinguish between “sub-syndromal SAD – or the winter blues”, which is a mild, but debilitating condition, causing discomfort, and SAD – which is a seriously disabling illness, preventing people from functioning normally when they don’t have continuous healthcare.

Shortening of daylight hours can cause an imbalance in the hypothalamus of the brain, resulting in many symptoms, ranging from hormone imbalance, lethargy, poor appetite control, to depression and insomnia. Other people notice a lack of sex drive, mood changes and irritability. Most of the research into mechanisms and treatment has focused on changes in levels of the brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin in response to changing lengths of exposure to light and darkness, and natural remedies may work on restoring balance of these chemicals in the brain, as well as enhancing general mood, and assisting sleep. This can start as early as the autumn (September), and last right through to the end of winter (even up until April) and, though it affects people of all ages, is most often noted between 18 and 30 years of age.

Self-Help for SAD

If you go to your doctor for help with Seasonal Depression, you are likely to be offered some form of antidepressant medication (though some can leave you feeling lethargic), and some GPs may suggest counselling – which has been found to be useful. Some people choose to tackle the problem using nonmedicated approaches, and a highly successful option is light therapy, which has been proven to be effective in up to 86% of diagnosed cases if exposed to bright light (ten times the intensity of domestic light) for between 30 minutes and 4 hours per day. Of course, to get the level that’s right for you, you will have to speak with a healthcare practitioner, as light boxes vary in their output intensity. Unfortunately, they are not available on the NHS, though some systems are available for around £100 to £150.

Many sufferers show signs of a weakened immune system, and should take extra care to include nutrient rich, immune-strengthening foods (such as fresh fruit and vegetables) in their diets. Dairy, meat, nuts, seeds and pulses provide important trace minerals to help fight off infection.

Oily fish help to maintain stamina and endurance and taking cod liver oil will help to raise levels of vitamin D in the body – which can get low once daylight hours diminish.

Proper blood sugar balance is important, so try to cut out refined carbohydrates (white bread, sugary, rice or corn-based cereals, jam, sugar and honey – to name but a few). Instead, use complex carbohydrates like wholegrain cereals, bread and pasta, mueslis which include nuts and seeds, and plenty of vegetables. Supplementing with chromium (around 200 microgrammes daily) can help to balance blood sugar.

Cut out caffeine and alcohol, which naturopaths believe interfere with brain chemistry (affecting the body’s “feelgood” mechanisms). Instead, choose caffeine-free alternatives such as herbal teas, or coffee substitutes.

Under practitioner supervision, you could take supplements which affect mood. L-tryptophan is a protein building block which is used to make the feelgood chemical serotonin in the brain. A substance related to this – 5-HTP increases serotonin production. St John’s wort’s has been shown to help SAD where there is established clinical depression, but there is little evidence that it helps people who are just feeling a little ‘down’.

Down all the time?

Depression is characterised by unhappy feelings of hopelessness and can result from stressful events, hormonal imbalance, biochemical changes in the brain and many other causes. For this reason, it is really important to visit a respected healthcare practitioner (your health store should be able to give you some names and contact details) to get thorough care.

Naturopathically, you might want to consider food allergy testing (as this has been linked to depression), cutting down on excess caffeine and sugar (which are both said to affect brain biochemistry) and take more exercise. Even before you see a practitioner, you might like to start taking a medium potency multivitamin and mineral supplement (containing around 30 to 50mg of most of the B vitamins), and a strong antioxidant formulation containing immune-supporting nutrients like selenium, vitamin C, zinc and other trace minerals. You can also chose some mood-lifting essential oils such as mandarin, lavender or neroli.

The Symptoms of SAD

Lethargy: Feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine

Overeating: Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain

Loss of libido: Decreased interest in sex and physical contact

Depression: Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy and loss of feelings

Social problems: Irritability and desire to avoid social contact

Anxiety: Tension and inability to tolerate stress

Mood changes: In some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (overactivity) in spring and autumn.

Sleep problems: Usually desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake but, in some cases, disturbed sleep and early morning wakening.

Self-help for sleep

It’s horrible tossing and turning at night because you can’t get to sleep. Insomnia can affect people at any time of life, and for some, it is a persistent problem which needs careful management. Here are some easy steps that you can take to help you get a good night’s sleep…

Reach for the caffeine-free teas!: Herbals such as chamomile, valerian and hops are naturally calming, so it makes sense to use these last thing at night. Some companies have also created ‘sleep’ blends which you could try. Alternatively, try soothing fruit teas such as raspberry, or caffeine-free malt drinks.

Healthy night-time stomach settlers: To stave off hunger, and to give you that cosy night-time feeling, heat up some milk (or milk alternative such as soya) and have a simple breakfast bar. This will fill you up for the night ahead, but not give you indigestion.

Late night essentials: There’s nothing like neroli, patchouli and sandalwood, in a warm bath (follow manufacturer’s instructions) or placed on a tissue under your pillowcase) to relax you late at night. It also helps to focus the mind on sleep, which can help people manage their tendency to anxiety.

Herbs to the rescue! For hundreds of years, herbs have been used to help manage healthy sleep. See a herbalist to discover which ones are right for you, and look out for preparations including valerian, chamomile, hops, passiflora and skullcap.

Natural Lifestyle

Men’s Health

Are you a man? Do you care about one? Do you know what health problems they have, or could have, or how to tackle them?… Natural Lifestyle finds out.

What all men need to know…

From an early age, men need to start taking good care of themselves. Research studies have highlighted stark differences in men and women’s health, and it makes a surprising read. Men are slightly more likely to smoke than women, men are more likely than women to be overweight, men are about three times more likely to kill themselves than women, men are more likely than women to drink alcohol excessively and men are more likely to use illegal drugs. But why?

Is it that men are still brought up to believe that they must be strong and tough, and behave as if they are indestructible? What’s more, men don’t need to see a doctor to get contraception, have smears, see a midwife or have mammograms. And even when they do want to see a doctor, most GP’s surgeries only open at times when men are likely to be at work. Are we surprised, then, that many men turn to natural health products to manage health conditions?

Whilst this should be no substitute for proper medical care, there are some useful remedies and recommendations that could help.

Looking after your heart…

If you’ve got a family history of heart trouble, it makes sense to take good care of your own. More exercise, a healthy diet and stopping smoking are essential for heart health. Nutritional supplements based on antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, selenium, magnesium and sometimes plant extracts such as quercetin or pycnogenol, which guard against free radical build-up (a precursor to development of atherosclerotic plaques) should be considered. If you have high blood pressure, don’t forget low sodium products as re placers for table salt, and advise men to jazz up their diets with a few spices just to keep food interesting. Other formulations that might be recommended to you by a healthcare practitioner include:

  • A supplement containing vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid will reduce heart disease risk (by keeping levels to homocysteine in the blood low).
  • Vitamin E (at least 400iu daily) should be taken to reduce risk of heart attack in those with established heart trouble.
  • Olive oil capsules were launched onto the market about four years ago and help displace high intakes of saturated fats in the blood, as well as decreasing “bad” LDL cholesterol, and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol. Other options for cholesterol balance include: red yeast rice, beta sitosterol, octosanol, wild yam and artichoke.
  • Fish oils at around SOOOmg daily (in split intakes of 1000mg) can also be chosen and linseeds also have a good ratio of omega 3 oils, so should be eaten in the diet, as should soya products, which provide isoflavones which are heart protective.

Never forget your nethers!

When it comes to prostate and sexual health, it really is important that men realise that modern lifestyles and diet have been taking their toll. Lack of exercise (which promotes healthy circulation, a factor in reproductive health) and poor diet has led to what the papers called the “great sperm disaster”. Sperm counts are getting lower, and the emphasis should shift from formulations which promise men they’ll reach new heights in the bedroom, to an overall health and diet plan including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic foods, plenty of nuts, pulses and the famous pumpkin seeds which are rich in minerals especially zinc for healthy sperm formation and prostate health).

Other items of interest

Take a look at what manufacturers have to offer:

  • Some formulations are broad spectrum, including all major vitamins and minerals for general health, with enhanced levels of zinc, vitamin E, possibly B vitamins for energy, antioxidant nutrients and amino acids such as arginine and glycine.(These nutrients are often recommended in higher amounts for infertility).
  • Look for products that may be specific to reproductive health, including herbs such as Africanum pygeum (frequency of urination and inflammation), ginger or ginkgo biloba (circulation), Korean ginseng (sexual performance – especially erectile dysfuntion).
  • Many products are marketed for prostate health in later life for urinary tract infections or Benign Prostatic Hyerplasia (think of Saw Palmetto, which can be used for male urinary discomfort).
  • Soya supplements may be specifically marketed for helping to maintain healthy prostate, as research shows a clear link between intake of isoflavones and prostate cancer risk. These formulations are often based on Red Clover.

Anxiety, stress and depression

At any one time in the UK, 45% of those being treated for anxiety are men, and 40% of those for depression.

Natural therapies can work wonders for stress-related conditions, taking a holistic approach to stress, anxiety and depression, including aromatherapy, acupuncture, t’ai chi, reflexology and are sure to recognise how popular medical herbalism has been for these conditions (think of the role of St John’s Wort, Kava Kava and ginseng to name just three). Nutritional programmes where caffeine is cut out (recommend caffeine free drinks), plenty of slow-release carbohydrates (recommend beans and pulses) and an all-round healthier diet (plenty of organic produce, fruit and vegetables) will help. There are many “hectic lifestyle”, “busy people’s” formulations – which are essentially designed for stress (though not allowed to say it) that you can suggest and will often include increased levels of B vitamins and antioxidants. As well as tackling the stress itself, manage a poor diet, which is often a knock-on effect from lack of interest in, or time to prepare good meals. Flower remedies may be used for emotional/mental aspects of stress, anxiety and depression and Australian Bush Flower Essences can be recommended for people who are always over-committed and who need to mate time for themselves and their relaxation.

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