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Trust me, I'm (nearly) a doctor - Looking into Omega-3 deficiency

 

Here is a blog post from our PhD student, Jamie Pugh. Jamie is involved in the BBC TV series, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor and is looking into omega-3 deficiency. Please read below:

As well as the research that I am currently carrying out, looking at whether probiotics can help with digestion during intense exercise, I have also been part of a number of studies over the last 12 months or so. Being fortunate enough to work at one of the top Sport and Exercise departments in the UK. I am privileged to be surrounded by world class research everyday and even luckier to sometimes be involved; be it as a helping hand collecting data, or sometimes even being a participant myself (even going to the extent of having muscle biopsies taken in the name of science).

 

omega-3 deficiency

 

 

One such opportunity saw me take on an even bigger role. When I was asked to help organise data collection for the BBC tv series, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor. As part of the series, we were asked to help find out if you could correct omega-3 deficiencies through food, supplements, or both, and if one was better than the other. If you are not sure about the benefits of omega-3, take a look at the Top 5 Benefits with Dr Nigel Plummer.

trust-me-i'm-a-doctor-omega-3-deficiency

 

To do this, we first needed to find some people deficient in omega-3. This involved taking blood samples from around 80 people, and analysing the red blood cells. From these, we could see, of all the fatty acids in them, how much, as a percentage, were the omega-3 fatty acids. Those who have below 4%, have been said to have a relatively higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Between 4-8% puts you at ‘Moderate Risk’, whereas an omega-3 Index of 8% or above means you’re at ‘Low Risk’. From the 80 people we screened, more than 60 were found to have an omega-3 index of below 6, many being below 4. This should not come as too much of a surprise. The main source of omega-3 is oily fish, something which is not commonly consumed today - the government recommendation is at least one portion of oily fish per week.

The Study

Once we’d done these tests, we divided the participants into 3 groups and asked each group to follow a specific diet:

  • Group 1 would eat oily fish
  • Group 2 would consume an omega-3 supplement
  • Group 3 was our control – or placebo group

However, because we didn’t want our volunteers to know where their omega-3 was coming from. So we asked each group to do something else regularly:

  • Group 1 would be asked to take a daily capsule; which was nothing more than a placebo pill
  • Group 2 were asked to eat non-oily white fish twice a week, which has low levels of omega-3
  • Group 3 would eat white fish and a placebo pill; so they were getting little to no omega-3

This way, each volunteer was eating fish twice a week, and taking a daily capsule; but none of them knew which group they were in, or what the other groups were getting.

 

trust-me-i'm-a-doctor-omega-3-deficiencyWhat happened by the end of the trial? Well, around 8 weeks later, we retested all of the participants for the same omega-3 index marker. You can see the results in the graph. Both the oily fish group and the supplement group saw significant increases, with many of these getting close to 8%.

What does it mean?

 

First of all, if you are not already consuming oily fish regularly, you have a good chance have having a low omega-3 index. More than 80% of the people we tested fell into this category.

 

Secondly, the good news is that there is an easy fix. Either, start adding oily fish into your diet - mackerel, salmon, fresh tuna etc. Or, start to include a daily supplement of omega-3. Our results showed that as little as 8 weeks was all it took to see significant increases. However - these changes will only be maintained for as long as you are consuming oily fish or omega-3 supplements.