Health Topics

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
There are many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows strong evidence that the omega-3s EPA and DHA can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure. And there are studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids may help with other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and many more.

Just what are omega-3 fatty acids exactly? How much do you need? And what do all those abbreviations — EPA, DHA, and ALA — really mean? Here’s a rundown on omega-3 fatty acids.

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Basics
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. We need them for our bodies to work normally. Because essential fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA) are not made in the body or are inefficiently converted from ALA to EPA and DHA, we need to get them from our diet .

Omega-3s have a number of health benefits. Omega-3s are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body — in the blood vessels, the joints, and elsewhere. However, omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) may cause the blood to thin and cause excess bleeding, particularly in people taking anticoagulant drugs.

There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids. Two crucial ones — EPA and DHA — are primarily found in certain fish. Plants like flax contain ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is partially converted into DHA and EPA in the body. Algae oil often provides only DHA.

Most experts say that DHA and EPA — from fish and fish oil — have better established health benefits than ALA. DHA and EPA are found together only in fatty fish and algae. DHA can also be found on its own in algae, while flaxseed and plant sources of omega-3s provide ALA — a precursor to EPA and DHA, and a source of energy.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Benefits

  • Blood fat [triglycerides]. According to a number of studies, fish oil supplements can lower elevated triglyceride levels. Having high levels of this blood fat is a risk factor for heart disease. DHA alone has also been shown to lower triglycerides.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. A number of studies have found that fish oil supplements [EPA+DHA] significantly reduced stiffness and joint pain. Omega-3 supplements also seem to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Depression. Some researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. Fish oil also seems to boost the effects of antidepressants. Fish oil may help reduce the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.
  • Prenatal health. DHA appears to be important for visual and neurological development in infants. However, studies are inconclusive as to whether supplementing omega-3 during pregnancy or breastfeeding benefits the baby.
  • Asthma. Evidence suggests that a diet high in omega 3s reduces inflammation, a key component in asthma. However, more studies are needed to show if fish oil supplements improve lung function or reduce the amount of medication a person needs to control their disease.
  • ADHD. Some studies show that fish oil can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in some children and improve their cognitive function. However, more research is needed in this area, and omega-3 supplements as a primary treatment for this disorder are not supported by research.
  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The evidence is preliminary, but some research suggests that omega-3s may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Recent studies have also evaluated whether the omega-3 supplement DHA can slow the decline seen in those with Alzheimer’s dementia or in age-associated memory impairment. One recent study showed that DHA can be a beneficial supplement and may have a positive effect on gradual memory loss associated with aging. However, more research needs to be done.

Past evidence pointed to omega-3 fatty acids reducing risk of heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease, but recent research has refuted these findings. More specific research is needed to sort this out.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s and Omega-6s
You may have heard about the importance of having a healthy balance of omega-3s with another fatty acid, omega-6s. Omega-6s are found in many oils, meats, and processed foods. Some experts believe that most people in the U.S. are eating far too many omega-6s and far too few omega-3 fatty acids. They argue that this imbalance may be causing many chronic diseases. However, other experts disagree. They don’t believe the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is actually significant. They also argue that the health benefits of omega-6s are being ignored. For now, the full implications aren’t clear. But the bottom line is simple. Whether the ratio turns out to matter or not, increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is still a good idea.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Food Sources
When possible, try to get omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as fish rather than supplements. Fish high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • anchovies
  • bluefish
  • herring
  • mackerel
  • salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed)
  • sardines
  • sturgeon
  • lake trout
  • tuna

Many experts recommend eating these fish two to three times a week.

Good food sources of ALA — which is converted into omega-3 fatty acids in the body — include:

  • walnuts
  • flax and flaxseed oil
  • canola oil
  • olive oil
  • soybean oil

While foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have health benefits, some — like oils and nuts — can be high in calories. So eat them in moderation.


Grape Seed Extract
Grapes — along with their leaves and sap — have been traditional treatments in Europe for thousands of years. Grape seed extract is derived from the ground-up seeds of red wine grapes. Although fairly new to the U.S., grape seed extract is now used to treat a number of diseases.


Why do people take grape seed extract?
There’s strong evidence that grape seed extract is beneficial for a number of cardiovascular conditions. Grape seed extract may help with a type of poor circulation (chronic venous insufficiency) and high cholesterol. Grape seed extract also reduces swelling caused by injury and helps with eye disease related to diabetes.

Many people are interested in grape seed extract because it contains antioxidants. These are substances that protect cells from damage and may help prevent many diseases. However, it’s still too early to say whether the antioxidant properties of grape seed extract really benefit people. Researchers are studying grape seed extract to see if it might lower the risks of some cancers. For now, the evidence is not clear.

Grape seed extract has been studied for use in many other conditions — ranging from PMS to skin damage to wound healing — but the results have been inconclusive.

How much grape seed extract should you take?
There is no firmly established dose of grape seed extract. Doses of between 100-300 milligrams/day have been used in studies and are prescribed in some European countries. No one knows what the highest safe dose is.


Can you get grape seed extract naturally from foods?
Grape seed extract comes from grapes. There are no other food sources.


What are the risks of taking grape seed extract?

  • Side effects. Grape seed extract is generally considered safe. Side effects may include headache, itchy scalp, dizziness, and nausea.
  • Risks. People allergic to grapes should not use grape seed extract. If you have a bleeding disorder or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before you start using grape seed extract.
  • Interactions. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using grape seed extract. It could interact with drugs like blood thinners, NSAID painkillers (like aspirin, Advil, and Aleve), certain heart medicines, cancer treatments, and others.

Given the lack of evidence about its safety, grape seed extract is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are part of normal cartilage. Cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones in a joint.

Glucosamine, also called chitosamine, is a natural substance that is found in the covering of shellfish. It is available in different forms, including glucosamine hydrochloride, N-acetyl-glucosamine (NAG), and glucosamine sulfate, which is a combination of glucosamine and mineral salt. Glucosamine is also available in synthetic forms. The body absorbs glucosamine well.

Chondroitin can come from natural sources, such as shark or bovine cartilage, or it can be made in a lab. Chondroitin is also known as chondroitin sulfate, chondroitin sulfuric acid, and chonsurid. Chondroitin sulfate is a combination of chondroitin and mineral salt.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are available in tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid form and are often taken in combination with each other or in combination with other dietary supplements. Glucosamine may be taken separately as a dietary supplement for joints.


What are glucosamine and chondroitin used for?
Many people take glucosamine and chondroitin, alone or together, for osteoarthritis. Some people believe this helps. But an analysis of studies did not show that these supplements slow joint destruction or relieve pain.1


Are glucosamine and chondroitin safe?
It appears that glucosamine and chondroitin, alone or together, are safe and have few side effects. But they cost money and may not help you. Talk to your doctor if your are thinking about taking glucosamine and chondroitin.

If you are allergic to shellfish, do not take glucosamine unless you have talked to your doctor. Some glucosamine is made from shellfish covering.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:

  • Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make other health conditions worse.
  • The way dietary supplements are manufactured may not be standardized. Because of this, how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form of supplement that you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
  • Other than for vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of most dietary supplements are not known.


Evening Primrose Oil


Why do people use evening primrose oil?
Evening primrose oil supplements usually come in capsule form. People take it to try to treat conditions such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Eczema or atopic dermatitis and other skin conditions
  • Breast pain during menstruation

Reviews of the available scientific evidence have found no reason to recommend evening primrose oil to help the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or breast pain.

There is some good research showing that evening primrose oil may be helpful in eczema or atopic dermatitis. And some studies suggest that supplements that contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), including evening primrose oil, may be of some benefit to people with rheumatoid arthritis. But more research is needed on the use of evening primrose oil for both of these conditions.

Evening primrose oil has also been used as a complementary treatment for some cancers. But, there is not enough evidence to support such use.

There is little to no evidence to support the use of evening primrose oil for most of the conditions for which it is marketed.


Can you get evening primrose oil naturally from foods?
GLA, thought to be the active ingredient in evening primrose oil, can be found in small amounts in a variety of food sources. However, it is most concentrated in plant oils such as evening primrose oil and borage oil.


What are the risks of taking evening primrose oil?
Most people will tolerate evening primrose oil without complications. But keep in mind that there have been reports of side effects such as:

  • Headache
  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea

Evening primrose oil may raise the risk of bleeding among people who take anticoagulant and antiplatelet medications. It may also raise the risk of seizures as well as serious nausea and vomiting for people taking a class of drugs known as phenothiazines. These drugs are used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

People should be especially cautious about taking evening primrose oil if they have:

  • Bleeding disorders
  • Seizure disorders such as epilepsy

Also, people who take medication to lower blood pressure should be careful because evening primrose oil may cause a further drop in pressure. Evening primrose oil may also interact with certain medicines used to treat depression.

Several other drug interactions have been noted. Evening primrose oil may cause seizures if used with anesthesia. Make sure you tell your doctor if you are taking this before you have any surgery.

Pregnant women should not take evening primrose oil because of the potential for complications.

Before taking evening primrose oil, or any other supplement, talk to your doctor about potential risks and drug interactions. Even so-called natural supplements should be used with caution.

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA.


Manuka Honey
Manuka honey is produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the native manuka bush. Advocates say it treats wound infections and other conditions.

WebMD takes a look at what the science says about using manuka honey as a medicine.


Healing Power of Honey
Honey has been used since ancient times to treat multiple conditions. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that researchers discovered that honey has natural antibacterial qualities.

Honey protects against damage caused by bacteria. Some honey also stimulates production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection. In addition, honey has an anti-inflammatory action that can quickly reduce pain and inflammation once it is applied.

But not all honey is the same. The antibacterial quality of honey depends on the type of honey as well as when and how it’s harvested. Some kinds of honey may be 100 times more potent than others.


Components of Manuka Honey
Hydrogen peroxide is a component of honey. It gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types of honey, including manuka honey, also have other components with antibacterial qualities.

Continue reading below…

The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). MG is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities.

In manuka honey, MG comes from the conversion of another compound — dihydroxyacetone — that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers.

MG is thought to give manuka honey its antibacterial power. The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect.

Honey producers have developed a scale for rating the potency of manuka honey. The rating is called UMF, which stands for Unique Manuka Factor.

The UMF rating corresponds with the concentration of MG. Not all honey labeled as manuka honey contains significant levels of MG. To be considered potent enough to be therapeutic, manuka honey needs a minimum rating of 10 UMF. Honey at or above that level is marketed as “UMF Manuka Honey” or “Active Manuka Honey.”


How Manuka Honey Is Used
The main medical use for manuka honey is on top of a wound. It is generally used for treating minor wounds and burns.

Manuka honey is also marketed for use in many other conditions. These include:

  • Preventing and treating cancer
  • Reducing high cholesterol
  • Reducing systemic inflammation
  • Treating diabetes
  • Treating eye, ear, and sinus infections
  • Treating gastrointestinal problems

But the evidence is limited on whether or not manuka honey is effective for these conditions.

The honey used to treat wounds is a medical-grade honey. It is specially sterilized and prepared as a dressing. So the jar of manuka honey in the pantry should not be considered part of a first aid kit. Wounds and infections should be seen and treated by a health care professional.


What the Science Says About Manuka Honey
Several recent studies show manuka honey is effective when used on top of wounds and leg ulcers. Studies also show it’s effective in fighting infection and promoting healing.

But not all studies show that it helps to heal ulcers. And there is concern that manuka honey may actually delay healing in people who have ulcers related to diabetes.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database lists honey as being “possibly effective” to treat burns and wounds. The Cochrane Review notes that honey may shorten healing times in mild burns compared with traditional dressings. However, honey dressings do not increase leg ulcer healing at 12 weeks even when used with compression wraps.

Another recent study suggests that manuka honey may be effective in preventing gingivitis and other periodontal disease by reducing the buildup of plaque. And in 2010, the scientific steering committee of the National Cancer Institute approved a proposal for the use of manuka honey for the reduction of inflammation of the esophagus associated with chemotherapy.

Another possible benefit of honey is that, unlike antibiotics, it has not been reported to cause development of resistant bacteria. These so-called “superbugs” develop after repeated exposure to common antibiotics. They require special antibiotics to treat them.

So far, studies have not shown manuka honey to be effective for treating high cholesterol or balancing the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

Continue reading below…

Also, no major studies have looked at the effect of manuka honey on cancer, diabetes, or fungal infections.


Possible Side Effects of Manuka Honey
The possible side effects of manuka honey are:

  • Allergic reaction, especially in people who are allergic to bees
  • Risk of a rise in blood sugar

Possible interaction with certain chemotherapy drugs