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Omega-3 Supplement May Protect Cells Against Air Pollution

A study recently published in the September 2008 edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that omega-3 supplements from fish or soy oil may protect the heart from air pollution, although fish oil proved to be more effective.

In the study, researchers recruited 52 nursing home residents with an average age of 76. For three months the participants were asked not to consume any supplements and observed. At the end of the third month the group was split in half and randomly assigned either a 2g fish or soy oil supplement. They were instructed to take the supplement daily for four months.

Blood tests taken before and during supplementation showed lower levels of oxidative damage to blood cells in all participants but a greater effect was observed in the fish oil group than in the soy oil group.

The researchers analyzed oxidative damage by measuring copper/zinc (Cu/Zn SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GSH), both of which are thought to protect against oxidative damage. Participants who were given a fish oil supplement saw a 49% increase in Cu/Zn SOD and a 62% increase in GSH. Those in the soy group saw a 23% increase in Cu/Zn SOD and a 55% increase in GSH.

The researchers also looked at markers for oxidative stress like lipoperoxidation (LPO). They found that participants who took fish oil experienced a 72 percent decrease in LPO production. No decrease was observed in the soy oil group.

Air pollution has been linked to a variety of heart and lung diseases. The EPA estimates 80-90% of human exposure to air pollution occurs within the home, where we spend 90% of our time. According to the EPA, the air in our homes is often times more polluted than even the most industrialized cities.

Exposure to air pollution occurs when you breathe harmful particles from the air. Small particles, especially those smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), have been linked to cardiovascular disease, asthma and increased rates of mortality among the elderly.

These particles can also cause oxidative damage and inflammation. Oxidative damage occurs as we metabolize oxygen from the air we breathe. This creates free radicals, which can destroy cell membranes, DNA, and proteins. While this metabolism is a natural process in our bodies, breathing polluted air creates too many free radicals for our bodies to neutralize without some help.

This study shows that omega 3 fatty acids, particularly those from fish oil, may be an effective tool against oxidative damage.

Fish oil is likely more effective than soy in protecting against oxidative damage because soy oil contains only ALA omega-3s. Those must be converted into EPA and DHA omega 3s for our body to use. During this conversion process, some of the potency is lost. Fish oil, on the other hand, delivers EPA and DHA directly and without the need for conversion.

In our increasingly industrialized world, finding ways to combat the detrimental health effects of air pollution will likely become more and more important. Consuming nutrients like omega-3s may be a good way to fight the onslaught of air pollution, and study after study is showing that fish oil is the best way to get the most important omega 3s, EPA and DHA.
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