Fish Oils

Recent reports of the beneficial effects on migraine from the ingestion of fish oil capsules have caused excitement among millions of migraine sufferers. Decreased frequency and severity of migraine attacks were noted in a small study carried out at the University of Cincinnati. Glueck, McCarren and their coworkers reported on a study of 15 patients with migraine in whom they compared the effects of fish oil with a placebo oil. In the trial, patients took either fish oil or placebo for six weeks. Then, following a three-week placebo period, they were switched over to the other oil for six additional weeks. The study was of a double-blind nature so that neither the physician nor the patient knew what was being taken during the two six-week treatment phases.

Nine of the 15 subjects showed reduction in the frequency and severity of migraine attacks while on the fish oil. There was a 40% to 50% reduction in the headache scores (derived from frequency and severity). The other six showed no significant change or had worsening of the attacks. The fish oil was in the form of MaxEPA capsules (R.P. Scherer Co.) and 15 capsules a day in divided doses were used. Other studies are currently being done to further evaluate effects of fish oil in migraine.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are felt to be the beneficial components in fish oil. They are classified as omega-3 fatty acids. The 1 gram MaxEPA capsule contains approximately 300 mg of EPA and DHA and approximately 700 mg of other oils, some of which are saturated fats. EPA will lower triglycerides but large quantities of fish oil capsules may actually elevate cholesterol and other lipid levels. The most beneficial dose of fish oil as far as lowering blood lipids is not known at this time. Other forms of fish oil products are being developed by companies which will have higher levels of the more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and less of the potentially harmful fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fatty fish and are found in the highest concentration in such fish as salmon, mackerel, trout and herring. EPA accounts for approximately 8% to 12% of the weight of these fish. Scallops, oysters, clams and caviar average about 20% EPA. Cod liver oil, which is derived from the liver of the cod fish, does contain EPA but also contains concentrations of vitamin A and D which may be toxic in large amounts.

Most of the studies in migraine, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma have utilized daily doses of 15-20 grams of fish oil of which about 30% is EPA. Since fatty fish contain 10% to 12% EPA, 50 grams or 2 oz of fish per day would supply the same amount of EPA as used in these studies. Two 8 oz fish meals a week would supply approximately the same amount of EPA as is being used in these ongoing studies.

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