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From Alzheimer's to omega-3

15-May-2019 From Alzheimer's to omega-3

Judy Bentley, a qualified nutritionist, looks at the importance of polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 from oily fish.

Let's look at the benefits of oily fish on symptoms of the menopause, what fish to eat, some alternatives to fish and how much is needed for the best results.

During the menopause transition, the oestrogen level drops. This causes some unfortunate symptoms such as depression, hot flushes, joint pain and weight gain.

A group of fats, the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), has been studied and shown to reduce these symptoms. Two of these are abundant in oily fish and some seafood and are of particular importance: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid); and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Why omega-3 is important

A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, causes sleep problems and one study showed that fish eaters sleep better. This is because DHA helps to make the sleep hormone called melatonin. Low intakes are implicated in depression, arthritis, macular degeneration, auto-immunity, allergy, Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease. DHA is also pivotal for mental health because it contributes 10 to 15% of the fatty acids in the brain.

Omega-3 reduces cardiac disease risk

The risk of heart attack is low before menopause, but rises sharply after. The decline in oestrogen causes fatty deposits and stiffening in the arteries, changes in blood flow and increased blood pressure. The good news is that EPA and DHA can help to prevent these.

They work in several ways:

  • the omega-3 fatty acids have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect which counteracts the rise in inflammation that can occur during menopause.

  • the absorption of these fats into the arteries increases their elasticity and helps prevent stiffening. This helps to reduce high blood pressure.

  • most sudden, fatal heart attacks are caused by arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). EPA and DHA regulate heart beat and reduce arrhythmias.

  • the omega-3s may also reduce cholesterol and triglyceride and lower the risk of cardiovascular death and death from other causes.

From Alzheimer's to omega-3

Omega-3 reduces depression and hot flushes

The risk of depression increases if women have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. A study in the Menopause Journal (2011) showed that a supplement reduced depression and menopause symptoms in women after just eight weeks.

Women who suffer the worst hot flushes are also at highest risk of depression. Hot flushes affect 80% of women during the menopause and omega-3 helps reduce them by regulating body temperature. It also works in a similar way to antidepressants, potentially to reduce both hot flushes and depression.

Other omega-3 menopause benefits

Omega-3 also helps to preserve bone mass after the menopause and may have a protective effect against breast cancer.

We are not getting the omega-3 fatty acids in balance. Our evolutionary diet of a diversity of animals, fish and plants supplied the omega-6 and omega-3 PUFA at about the same amounts. However, today people are eating as much as 16 times more omega-6. There is a strong case that over consumption of the omega-6 PUFA linoleic acid is a big factor in the rise of chronic diseases.

For more information, please visit www.judebentley.com

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