Omega-3 is the most widely studied type of essential fatty acid with respect to its health benefits as a supplement and the health risks incurred by its deficiency. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, one of the classic signs of deficiency is a dry scaly skin rash. The association of omega-3 deficiency with skin disorders has prompted significant research into the role of this essential fatty acid in maintaining good skin health.
Ultraviolet, or UV, sunlight is a major contributor to cancer-causing skin cell damage. Unfortunately, the immune system's inflammatory response to UV-induced cell damage often makes matters worse. A 2006 report from the World Health Organization states that up to 60,000 people worldwide die every year from skin cancers. Of these, 48,000 succumb to melanomas while the remaining 12,000 die from skin carcinomas. The pathways of skin cancer from UV radiation led to studies of supplemental omega-3s in relation to protecting skin cells, reducing inflammation and bolstering the skin to enable safe sun exposure.
Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, reporting in the July 2006 issue of the journal “Cancer Detection and Prevention” write that omega-3 fatty acids derived from marine animals offer substantial protection against sun-induced skin damage. The researchers reviewed evidence from human and animal studies conducted over 15 years. The authors concluded that both dietary and supplemental omega-3s provide significant protection against skin cell damage, wrinkles and sagging skin. The protective effects were most pronounced when the average intake of omega-6 fatty acids was two to three times higher than omega-3 intake.
In a review of the animal studies published on marine omega-3s, the Baylor researchers found that dietary omega-3s slowed the formation of skin tumors and limited their numbers by inhibiting the cancerous genetic changes produced by UV sunlight. They also found that dietary omega-3s reduced the blood and skin levels of a chemical called PGE2, which promotes cancerous inflammation and suppresses the immune response to cancer-causing cellular mutations. Further, dietary omega-3s significantly reduced the damaging effects of the inflammation response produced in skin that is exposed to UV light.
In their review of the human studies performed on the role of omega-3s in maintaining good skin health, the Baylor researchers found that people with high intake of omega-3 fish oil can stay out in the sun longer without damaging effects to their skin. Study participants who supplemented omega-3s took longer to sunburn than subjects who didn't supplement or had low dietary intake. Further, the supplements significantly calmed the skin’s inflammatory responses to sun exposure known to cause wrinkling, cell damage and to produce a cascade of effects that can lead to skin cancer.
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Info Ctr.: Essential Fatty Acids
- World Health Organization: Global Burden of Disease from Solar Ultraviolet Radiation
- Cancer Detection and Prevention: Potential of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Non-melanoma Skin Cancer; Homer Black and Lesley E. Rhodes
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
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