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July Issue Of Natural Alternatives
July 03, 2007
Natural Alternatives for Your Total Health

July 2007

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Nature is the Physician of all Disease ~ Hippocrates





By Joanna Hall

OMEGA-3 oils are good for you. But evidence is mounting they could help us lose weight, too.

Since their discovery in the 1970s, omega-3 fatty acids have been firmly under the scientific spotlight: the subject of discussion, speculation and multiple studies of their potential health benefits.

A type of polyunsaturated fat found in fish, seafood and several types of plants and plant oils, omega-3 fats have been hailed as a wonder oil for preventing and treating myriad life-threatening conditions. These include everything from heart disease and stroke, to a host of psychological disorders, including bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

But one area that hasn't received much attention is the role of omega-3 fats in weight loss.

The idea that fatty acids may contribute to weight loss isn't new. Dr Udo Erasmus, an internationally recognised authority on the role of fats and oils in human health, has been an advocate of their benefits in weight management for years.

He says essential fats help to keep us slim. "They act like hormones that increase fat-burning and decrease fat production in the body," he says. "They shift the body from carbohydrate-burning mode to fat-burning mode. But only the essential fats, especially the 'missing' omega-3s, accomplish these functions."

Work It Off

Research from the University of South Australia also appears to support links between fish oil and weight loss. The results of a 2006 study showed that moderate exercise, combined with daily doses of omega-3 fatty acids, helped obese people burn off excess weight.

"Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can switch on enzymes specifically involved in oxidising or burning fat," explains Professor Peter Howe, research fellow in nutritional physiology at the University of SA's School of Health Sciences. "But they need a driver - in our case exercise - to increase the metabolic rate in order to lower body fat."

Shamala Ratnesar, a Sydney-based dietitian and author of The Diet Revolution (Pan Macmillan), has first-hand experience of the power of fats and their contribution to successful weight loss.

Ratnesar discovered the health benefits of omega-3 while studying for her master's degree, but she made the connection with weight loss when treating patients in private practice. She has also had, and overcome, a weight problem of her own - something she attributes to following a diet rich in omega-3s.

The Healthy Way

"I wanted to develop nutrition and health programs that would give people optimum health and longlasting results," Ratnesar says. "When working with patients on their various health issues and problems, however, I realised that weight loss also happened, almost as a by-product."

Ratnesar went on to develop a weight loss program based on fish oils - one that would improve health while at the same time helping people shed unwanted kilos. The diet has three different stages, but the same nutritional principles apply in each one: eat lots of fish, seafood and vegetables. It's also a diet low in saturated fat, and features low-GI carbohydrates and regular exercise.

The basic program is called the Omega Energising Phase, and is designed for gradual weight loss. According to Ratnesar, it's balanced and nutritionally sound, so you can eat this way for life.

The weight management stage is referred to as the Omega Energising Plus Phase. But because it allows some additional "good" fats and treats, it's only recommended for people who have achieved their goal weight and remain active.

Finally, there's the Omega Rapid Weight Loss Phase, a short-term plan which can be used if you have a lot of weight to lose, or if you hit a plateau.

"Having worked with thousands of people, I have found that many overweight individuals lose motivation if they don't see more rapid results," Ratnesar says.

"This phase needs to be alternated with the gradual weight loss plan. But it is by no means a starvation diet, and at no stage is any food group cut out."

Dietary Guidelines

Last year, the National Health and Medical Research Council published dietary guidelines for the intake of fatty acids for optimal health: 610mg per day for men, and 430mg for women. This equals two to three servings of fish a week. So how does that compare with Ratnesar's diet?

"I ask people to aim to have some form of fish, seafood or omega-3 eggs every day," she says. Meeting the guidelines is easy. "If a person has a canned salmon sandwich at lunchtime, they have met the guidelines," Ratnesar says. "If you have two poached eggs for breakfast the next day, you've done it again."

If you don't like fish, Ratnesar says the diet can be adapted. "Omega-3 eggs are a great alternative for vegetarians and people who don't like fish," she says. "Lean chicken is a good substitute for the protein in fish, and if you take a fish oil capsule with the chicken, it's almost like eating fish."

Omega-3 Enriched

Food manufacturers are also enriching many common foods with omega-3s, such as bread and milk, which can add to the total content.

The diet doesn't forbid fish oil supplements but, like many food experts, Ratnesar argues that obtaining nutrients from food is a better way to go.

"Supplements are very useful for people who have existing heart disease, or those who have inflammatory conditions like arthritis," she says. "These people require large amounts of omega-3s, which isn't easy to meet through foods."

Weight loss will vary on any diet, and much depends on how well you stick to it, and how much you have to lose.

But, says Ratnesar, "Everyone who wants to lose weight, and follows the weight loss phases of this program, will lose weight.

"It is a simple, tasty and enjoyable diet and lifestyle program that can make you healthier, happier, slimmer and smarter. And in the long term, it can literally save your life."

The Benefits Don't Stop There

Heart Health

Studies show that fatty acids protect against heart rhythm disorders, and also have proven benefits for reduced blood clotting and improved blood vessel functioning.

Fatty acids can also help to lower triglycerides and LDL, or the "bad" cholesterol, and they have a positive effect on high blood pressure.


Studies of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, whose diets had been supplemented with fish oil, have shown improvement from nagging symptoms, including tender joints and poor grip strength. Fish oils seem to calm the inflammation.

Brain Function

The fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an important ingredient for optimal brain function, and is found in fish. It's the reason fish is often dubbed "brain food".

Low levels of DHA have been linked to memory loss, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, autism, general learning difficulties and bad moods.


A number of studies appear to support the idea that good fats may fight brain changes in Alzheimer's patients. In the disease, lesions called "plaques" form in the brain due to the abnormal clumping of two proteins.

But in April this year researchers at the University of California reported results of new findings from a study of mice, indicating that a diet rich in DHA may thwart the build-up of these proteins.


Fatty acids are said to reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of developing diabetes, and helping to manage the condition if you already have it.

People with diabetes tend to have high triglyceride and low HDL ("good" cholesterol) levels. As fish oil can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL, people with, or at risk of, diabetes may benefit from eating foods or taking supplements that contain DHA.

By Nicola Darrell I.M.H.O

High blood pressure has become one of the major syndromes of Western society.

Due to increased stress, changing patterns of exercise and diet it is becoming more and more common. It was previously thought of as a mainly male problem, but is being diagnosed in more women, particularly post-menopausal.

What can be done to decrease the risk of developing the condition or to treat it if it starts to develop?

First of all look at the diet. Make sure that you include plenty of fruit and vegetables every day – in Ireland at least 5 portions a day are recommended, whereas in France they recommend at least 10. Try to include some pulses (beans and lentils) a couple of times a week. Make sure that the fats you use come from plant sources, or from oily fish. Include fish in your diet and reduce the intake of red meat. And of course, cut out salt, use herbs and spices and lemon juice or cider vinegar to add flavour, as well as good quality cold pressed unrefined vegetable oils.

Drink plenty of water- we need at least 1.5 litres a day. If you find it hard to drink cold water try hot water with a slice of lemon, or herbal teas. Keep caffeine intake down- caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands, which automatically raises blood pressure.

Take regular exercise, try to leave the car at home whenever possible and walk instead, or cycle.

Consider taking up some aerobic exercise such as cycling, swimming, dancing, canoeing or walking. Or take up a stress reducing form of exercise such as yoga, tai chi or chi gong.

If you know that you are feeling stressed consider having some massage, aromatherapy or reflexology, or take some soothing baths with essential oils.

Make sure you get enough sleep – research shows that sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease.

You could also consider using herbal supplements to improve the health of your cardiovascular system (the heart and circulation).

* Hawthorn has long been used to improve the health of the heart and circulation; its benefits in this area were discovered in the 19th century by an Irish physician! As well as balancing the blood pressure, it also contains antioxidants which protect the blood vessels and can help relieve mild anxiety, which also helps reduce blood pressure.

* If stress is a big factor in the condition then Valerian can be useful. Valerian is thought of as a remedy which helps improve sleep quality, and we have already mentioned the importance of sleep in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. However, Valerian can also help reduce anxiety and stress responses without making you drowsy during the day. It is most beneficial for these two properties if taken 3 times daily, rather than just taking before bed time. In addition, valerian is an antispasmodic which helps to relax smooth muscles; this includes relaxing the muscles in the walls of the blood vessels which helps to reduce blood pressure and the skeletal muscles so that we hold less tension in our bodies.

* Dandelion leaf can be beneficial for treating water retention associated with high blood pressure. Conventional medicine often uses thiazide diuretics as a treatment for high blood pressure; dandelion leaf contains a natural diuretic to help with water retention, but it also contains plenty of potassium so that the problem of potassium depletion which can occur with pharmaceutical diuretics does not occur. If using dandelion leaf do ensure that the fluid intake is adequate, about 1.5 litres of water per day.

* Milk Thistle is another herb which can be beneficial, it does not directly treat the blood pressure but it does help reduce blood fats, which can help prevent the development of plaques on the walls of the arteries, thereby reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure.

* Black Cohosh is mainly thought of as a treatment for menopausal symptoms but has a tradition of use for high blood pressure too, so it can be particularly useful for treating this condition if it develops around menopause.

* Garlic can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure and also helps prevent circulatory problems and stroke by keeping the blood thin.

Nicola Darrell is a a medical herbalist, aromatherapist and botanist. She chairs the Irish Medical Herbalists Organisation, sat on the Irish Medicines Scientific Committee on herbal medicinal products and now sits on the Irish Medicines Board herbal sub-committee. To purchase these or other herbal medicines, visit Ánu Organics who offer a complete range of 21 certified, organic whole herb medicines and food supplements from Ireland. The company uses the whole herb rather than a standardised extract because studies have shown a greater benefit from herbal medicine which are in their most natural state as possible. For further information visit


Thank you for reading.

Livia P.
Brampton, Ontario, Canada

P.S. If you have a comment or suggestion, just reply to this e-mail. Your feedback is important to me.



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