Omega-3 EPA offers potential to speed recovery from sports injuries, reducing need for NSAID medication

When it comes to perseverance in exercise, we’re often encouraged to ‘push through the pain barrier.’ The ability to push on despite our bodies warning us to stop is sometimes even considered a sign of good sportsmanship. But failing to listen to the warning signs can lead us to injury.

With more and more people experiencing overuse injuries it’s no surprise that NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) prescriptions and over-the-counter purchases are continuing to rise, despite bad press and side effects from chronic use. Perhaps we’re so keen to push ourselves and see results fast that it’s easy to step a little over the mark. If we’re lucky we might get away with a minor strain, but we could end up with painful joint and ligament damage which could bring our exercise regime to a sharp halt. The problem is inflammation, which lies at the root of most sport-related injuries, and is the culprit for the pain and stiffness which come as part of the package.

As a quick fix it’s tempting to reach for the NSAIDs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, but these come with a host of risks and are certainly not to be relied upon long-term. It’s not uncommon to experience serious stomach upset, ulcers and indigestion, some having experienced internal bleeding or vertigo. Alarmingly, up to 4,000 people in the UK die each year as a result of taking NSAIDs. [1] With acute pain, they can indeed help enormously, but it’s important to remember that they are only masking the pain – they don’t actually heal the injury itself and in some cases can make it worse. Chronic use of NSAIDs has been reported to break down the articular cartilage which cushions the joints from high-impact activities like running, effectively accelerating the development of osteoarthritis.

Athletes and keep-fit individuals may be better advised to seek natural alternatives – of the many options available, the use of essential fatty acids has well-backed clinical data supporting their role in relieving inflammation. Better known as ‘omega fatty acids’, these essential nutrients also have a host of other health-supporting benefits including cardiac, mood, concentration, immune, eye function and age-related mental decline.

The two types of omega fatty acids required by the body are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Whilst we need both types of fatty acids in our diets because they are not produced naturally by the body, according to scientists it is absolutely vital to have the correct balance; a significant excess of one type over the other can have a detrimental impact upon health.

With the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the region of 2:1, the average diet is now quite significantly out of balance at an average of approximately 25:1. Indeed leading medical researcher and fatty acid specialist, Professor Puri of Hammersmith Hospital, London, suggests that deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids may be responsible for increases in the rates of inflammatory disorders, such as joint problems, allergies, skin conditions and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).

Long-chain omega-3s are converted in the body into anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, which help to speed the healing of overuse injuries. The omega-6 metabolic pathway can be either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, largely depending on the level of omega-3s in the diet.  A low level of omega-3 tends to result in inflammatory products from omega-6, but by increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the diet this encourages the omega-6 pathway to produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.The potent anti-inflammatory EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), actually competes against omega-6s, reducing the level of pro-inflammatory substances produced by omega-6s in the body.

Changes in food processing methods, diet and lifestyle over the past century have dramatically decreased our intake of omega-3, and increased our intake of short-chain omega-6 (mainly in the form of vegetable oils, which should be replaced with olive oil).

Indeed clinicians suggest that an effective way to reverse the imbalance is to consume higher amounts of omega-3 in the form of fish oils. [2] GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid, is capable of anti-inflammatory actions, unlike its other omega-6 relatives.

At Igennus we specialise in the production of scientifically supported pharmaceutical quality omega fatty acid formulations. Used by leading clinicians and researchers alike, our best-selling patented product Vegepa contains ultra-pure EPA and organic virgin evening primrose oil, rich in GLA and is effective for relieving inflammation and pain caused by overuse injuries. As such, Vegepa promotes the synergistic effects that both these natural substances bring to the body – above all, anti-inflammatory and mood-balancing properties, cardio-supporting eicosanoids and free radical-scavenging triterpene antioxidants.

We have also formulated a joint-specific product OmegaFlex, combining the benefits of highly concentrated omega oils and glucosamine hydrochloride for optimum protection of the joints. Both supplements are available from good health food shops, or mail order.

[1] Hayllar, J., Macpherson, A.Bjarnason, I. Gastroprotection and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Rationale and clinical implications. Drug Saf. 1992 Mar-Apr;7(2):86-105.

[1] Mi Wada, C. DeLong, Y. Hong, C. Rieke, I. Song, R. Sidhu, C. Yuan, M. Warnock, A. Schmaier, C Yokoyama|, E Smyth, S Wilson, G FitzGerald, R Garavito, D Sui, J Regan, and W Smith. Enzymes and Receptors of Prostaglandin Pathways with Arachidonic Acid-derived Versus Eicosapentaenoic Acid-derived Substrates and Products. Journal of Biological Chemistry August 2007, Vol. 282, Issue 31.

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