Posted Dec 2, 2013

Oily fish is a good source of protein and if you eat the bones of a fish, as you do when you eat whitebait, sardines or pilchards, then you can also get calcium from them. It also provides us with nutrients like vitamins A and D, which are important for healthy bones and skin, and help us fight off infections.

Oily fish includes herring, mackerel, pilchard, salmon, sardine, trout and fresh tuna and these fish contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. A healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish which is around 140g when cooked. Some white fish and shellfish also contain omega-3 but not as much as oily fish.

Pregnant women and those who want to conceive in the future should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week because it can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body (1). Although omega-3 is also found in nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flax seeds, this is different from the long-chain type found in oily fish.

The main benefit associated with both heart and brain health is the specific type of long-chain omega-3 fats that oily fish contain. While it’s not clear exactly how these particular omega-3 fats are good for our hearts, it is thought that there are several benefits, including helping to prevent the blood from clotting, regulating heart rhythm and helping to lower levels of blood fats called triglycerides. (2)

Earlier this year, research found that a combination of aspirin and fish oil could also be the best way to tackle arthritis. They were found to work together to combat the inflammation responsible for illnesses from heart disease and cancer to arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

Scientists have revealed that people who tuck in to fatty fish at least once a week are far less likely to be hit by the chronic joint condition. And eating four servings of lean fish – such as cod, haddock or tinned tuna – can also have a similar impact.

The study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (3) saw scientists from Karolinska Institute in Sweden, collect dietary information on 32,000 women born between 1914 and 1948. The women completed lifestyle surveys, providing details of what food they ate in 1987 and again in 1997. During this time, 205 women developed rheumatoid arthritis.

After adjusting for various factors – such as smoking habits, alcohol intake and age – the researchers found that women with a consistently high daily intake in both 1987 and 1997 of more than 0.21g of omega 3 Pufas had a 52 per cent decreased risk of developing the condition. They also showed that consistent, long-term consumption of any fish once or more each week was associated with a 29 per cent decreased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, welcome the findings of the study, saying: “We’ve known for some time that there is good evidence that in people with active arthritis, taking fish oils can reduce the level of inflammation. What this study suggests is that by taking high levels of fish oils it would appear that it can prevent inflammation from starting in the joint.”

Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, said: “Diet has always been a controversial subject when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis as foods which may affect one person in a negative or positive way cannot be generalised to the entire population of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. However, there is a small amount of evidence that a Mediterranean style diet which is high in vegetables, fruit and fish, may have some benefit. Clearly a lot more research needs to be done in this area.”

Rheumatoid arthritis – which affects at least 700,000 people in Britain – is an inflammatory disease that causes pain and swelling in the joints and as the disease progresses, the immune system attacks the joints, making them stiff, swollen and painful.(4) References:

1) 2) 3) 4)

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