Those who follow a typical American diet tend to have higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Similar to those who follow a Mediterranean diet, Inuit Eskimos, who consume high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, tend to have increased HDL cholesterol and decreased triglycerides (fatty material that circulates in the blood). Research indicates that food rich in ALA (“Omegas”) have been shown to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol.
High Blood Pressure
Studies suggest that diets rich in Omegas lower blood pressure significantly in people with hypertension. Certain fish high in mercury, such as tuna and related should be avoided because they may increase blood pressure. A plant based diet rich in Omegas may be more effective for this particular issue.
One of the best ways to help prevent and treat heart disease is to eat a low-fat diet and to replace foods rich in saturated and trans-fat with those that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 fatty acids). Evidence suggests that EPA and DHA found in fish oil help reduce risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, however with increased pollution and mercury levels in our oceans a high concentration of pure plant Omegas are far more effective in battling those diseases. There is also strong evidence that these plant Omegas can help prevent and treat atherosclerosis by inhibiting the development of plaque and blood clots, each of which tends to clog arteries.
Strong evidence from population-based studies suggests that Omegas intake, helps protect against stroke caused by plaque build-up and blood clots in the arteries that lead to the brain.
People with diabetes tend to have high triglyceride and low HDL levels. An appropriate intake of Omegas can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL.
Many people who are overweight suffer from poor blood sugar control, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Studies suggest that overweight people who follow a weight loss program including exercise tend to achieve better control over their blood sugar and cholesterol levels when plant Omegas is a staple in their low fat diet.
Clinical studies investigating the use of Omega-3 fatty acid supplements for inflammatory joint conditions have focused almost entirely on rheumatoid arthritis. Several articles reviewing the research in this area conclude that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduce tenderness in joints, decrease morning stiffness, and allow for a reduction in the amount of medication needed for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition, laboratory studies suggest that diets rich in plant Omega-3 fatty acids (and ideal amount of omega-6 fatty acids) may benefit people with other inflammatory disorders, such as osteoarthritis. In fact, several test tube studies of cartilage-containing cells have found that Omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation and reduce the activity of enzymes that destroy cartilage.
Studies suggest that Omega-3 fatty acids from a primary source (plant) help increase levels of calcium in the body, deposit calcium in the bones, and improve bone strength. In addition, studies also suggest that people who are deficient in certain essential fatty acids (particularly Omega 3 and omega-6 fatty acid) are more likely to suffer from bone loss than those with normal levels of these fatty acids. In a study of women over 65 with osteoporosis, those given a high concentration of plant Omegas experienced significantly less bone loss over three years than those who were given a placebo. Many of these women also experienced an increase in bone density.
People who do not get enough Omega-3 fatty acids or do not maintain a healthy balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids in their diet may be at an increased risk for depression. The Omega-3 fatty acids are important components of nerve cell membranes. They help nerve cells communicate with each other, which is an essential step in maintaining good mental health.
Levels of omega-3 fatty acids were found to be measurably low and the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids were particularly high in a study of patients hospitalized for depression.
Manic/Depression (Bipolar Disorder)
In a study of 30 people with bipolar disorder, those who were treated with an ideal balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 (in combination with their usual mood stabilizing medications) for four months experienced fewer mood swings and recurrence of either depression or mania than those who received placebo. A similar but larger study is currently underway at the University of California- Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Children with ADHD may have low levels of certain essential fatty acids (including EPA and DHA) in their bodies. In a study of nearly 100 boys, those with lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids demonstrated more learning and behavioral problems (such as temper tantrums and sleep disturbances) than boys with normal Omega-3 fatty acid levels. In animal studies, low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower the concentration of certain brain chemicals (such as dopamine and serotonin) related to attention and motivation. At this point in time, eating foods high in a primary source of Omega-3 fatty acids (Sacha Inchi oil) is a reasonable approach for someone with ADHD.
Studies suggest that men and women with anorexia nervosa have lower than optimal levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (including ALA). To prevent the complications associated with essential fatty acid deficiencies, some experts recommend that treatment programs for anorexia nervosa include a rich primary source of Omega 3 fatty acids (which includes also Omega-6 fatty acids).
Essential fatty acids have been used to reduce inflammation and promote wound healing in burn victims. Animal research indicates that Omega-3 fatty acids help promote a healthy balance of proteins in the body — protein balance is important for recovery after sustaining a burn.
In one study, 13 people with a particular sensitivity to the sun known as photo dermatitis showed significantly less sensitivity to UV rays after taking plant based Omegas. Still, research indicates that topical sunscreens are much better at protecting the skin from damaging effects of the sun than Omega-3 fatty acids. In another study of 40 people with psoriasis, those who were treated with medications and primary source of Omegas did better than those treated with the medications alone. In addition, many clinicians believe that Sacha Inchi oil (which contains omega-3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids) are far more helpful for treating acne because it has the ideal ratio between both of these fatty acids, unlike other oils like coconut and flax seed oil.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
When added to medication, such as sulfasalazine (a standard medication for IBD), omega-3 fatty acids may reduce symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — the two types of IBD. More studies to investigate this preliminary finding are under way. In animals, it appears that ALA works better at decreasing bowel inflammation than EPA and DHA. Plus, fish oil supplements can cause side effects that are similar to symptoms of IBD (such as flatulence and diarrhea).
Preliminary research suggests that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements (rich in ALA) may decrease inflammation and improve lung function in adults with asthma.
A questionnaire administered to more than 3,000 people over the age of 49 found that those who consumed more plant Omegas in their diet were less likely to have macular degeneration (a serious age-related eye condition that can progress to blindness) than those who consumed less plant Omegas. Similarly, a study comparing 350 people with macular degeneration to 500 without found that those with a healthy dietary balance of Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in their diets were less likely to have this particular eye disorder.
In a study of nearly 200 Danish women, those with the highest dietary intake of Omegas had the mildest symptoms during menstruation.
Consuming significant amounts of foods rich in Omegas appears to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. For example, Eskimos, who tend to follow 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, including plant Omegas prevent worsening of colon cancer while an excess intake of Omega-6 fatty acids promote the growth of colon tumors.
Although not all experts agree, women who regularly consume foods rich in Omegas over many years may be less likely to develop breast cancer. The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids appears to play an important role in the development and growth of breast cancer. Further research is still needed to understand the effect that Omega-3 fatty acids may have on the prevention or treatment of breast cancer. For example, several researchers speculate that Omega-3 fatty acids in combination with other nutrients (namely, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and coenzyme Q10) may prove to be of particular value for preventing and treating breast cancer.
Laboratory and animal studies indicate that Omega-3 fatty acids (specifically, primary plant sources) may inhibit the growth of prostate cancer. Similarly, population based studies of groups of men suggest that a low-fat diet with the addition of Omega-3 fatty acids from fish help prevent the development of prostate cancer. Like breast cancer, the balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids appears to be particularly important for reducing the risk of this condition.
Although further research is needed, preliminary evidence suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids specially from primary plant sources may also prove helpful in protecting against certain infections and treating a variety of conditions including ulcers, migraine headaches, preterm labor, emphysema, psoriasis, glaucoma, Lyme disease, lupus, and panic attacks.