Omega-3: The key to a longer, healthier life

Omega-3 supplements in store
Omega-3 supplements in store
Many painful and life-threatening illnesses can be delayed with increased consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids
Many painful and life-threatening illnesses can be delayed with increased consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids

Professor John Stein, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Professor of Neurophysiology, University of Oxford, and his brother, television personality and world famous fish chef, Rick Stein, speak to WF&A on the benefits of Omega-3.

A worrying scarcity of Vitamin D and Omega-3 essential fatty acids in our highly processed, predominantly fish-free western diet is one of the prime causes of premature death due to cardiovascular calcification (heart attacks) and the gradual deterioration of normal brain function (Alzheimer’s disease). However, society often shrugs-off such debilitating health problems, including arthritis and high blood pressure, as a normal progression into old age.

Illness and behaviour
But John Stein believes much of this suffering is entirely unnecessary. Many of the most painful and often life-threatening illnesses can be substantially delayed with increased consumption of Vitamin D and particularly the Omega-3 fatty acids found in abundance in oily fish such as herring, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, salmon, tuna, trout and anchovies. He also believes that Omega-3’s can substantially reduce anti-social behaviour, especially in prisons.

“Our experiment at Polmont prison in Scotland is still ongoing, but we have seen a huge drop in re-offending in a previous prison-based trial. An earlier study carried out in 1989 showed that Omega-3 oils can protect the heart. Researchers examined 2,033 men with heart disease and who had been advised to eat extra fat, fibre or fish. Death rates were examined two years later and it was proven that those who had been encouraged to eat fish were 29% less likely to die from heart disease than those who had not, showing that consumption of Omega-3 oils, no matter how late in the day, can still offer protection”.

Doctors now know that half of all heart attack deaths are caused by an irregular heartbeat and that eating oily fish is the best means of acquiring long-term protection.

Health benefits
John Stein’s world-renowned TV fish cooking celebrity brother, Rick, takes a much less scientific approach. Rick is still passionate about the many health benefits attached to a diet rich in fish. He is also willing to admit to having learned a salutary business lesson from his friend and colleague, Jamie Oliver, who founded the successful Fifteen restaurant group, but so unsuccessfully failed to make a lasting impression upon the nutritional qualities of UK school dinners.

“Changing a person’s eating and drinking habits is a difficult and very risky nut to crack”, Rick Stein told WF&A. "I really believe that fish is good for the brain - what our grandmothers taught us turned out to be true. In layman’s terms, fish oil lubricates the brain and makes it far faster. We are what we eat. If you have a balanced diet you will be healthier and that must include fish. But what we found during our experiment to introduce Omega-3 fish oils at Polmont, was that although healthy options are always readily available, very few people choose to eat them. We should all be consuming more oily fish to improve our quality and length of life, especially where healthy brain function is concerned.”

In response to being asked where he considered the healthiest dietary habits can be found, Rick said, “A country’s topography has a huge effect upon diet (and potential new market places). Japan is predominantly mountainous but surrounded by huge expanses of sea. You can’t grow all the protein requirements of a modern nation like Japan on the side of a mountain, so that’s why Japan eats so much fish”.

Rick said he is satisfied that UK and Europe has finally got a grip upon the problem of overfishing and conservation, but this is in a section of the world where fish is consumed as part of a varied diet rather THE diet, as he began to recount his experiences in Cambodia, where the mass population is being forced to watch their principal source of nutrition and survival being placed in grave jeopardy by the Chinese, as a result of plans to dam the Mekong river.

The Mekong flows off the mighty Himalayas and is rich in both agricultural nutrients and freshwater fish, which the Cambodians have always relied upon to replenish their land and where freshwater fish is their principal protein source. Needless to say, any reduction in the availability of fish will impact hugely upon every wild animal living close to the Mekong. WF&A asked Rick if he was concerned about the fact that red krill oil is now being sold as a food supplement, which left us wondering what the migrating whales are expected to eat when they reach the end of their long journey between the poles.

2p per day
For over three decades John Stein has been exploring the effects of increased Omega-3 fatty acids upon nerve cell function. John told WF&A that all the benefits of fish oils can be gained for less than two UK pennies each day and that such a ‘golden’ commodity can be derived from the parts of the fish usually disposed of as waste.

So to carefully place John Stein’s long, scientifically auspicious career into a very small nutshell, he has arrived at the same dietary location as did the Italians, Greeks, Spanish, Portuguese and the rest of the Mediterranean civilizations a couple of thousand years ago, and whether by accident or design, usually included at least two portions of oily fish per week and an abundant supply of fresh vegetables and fruit.

It seems history also proves that a locally abundant and nutritious food source such as oily fish can result in entire populations remaining healthy, both in body and mind, for at least a decade longer than other more poorly nourished nations, which, on occasion, has led to being decimated by invasion. And all down to an absence of oily fish in their diet…perhaps!

An interesting and potentially profitable message to print upon every bottle of Omega-3 fish oil capsules, maybe!

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