Omega Power

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

Seventy-year-old Bill Richards loved to help others. He owned and operated the largest hardware store in Westchester County, US. He was an active man, the type of guy who’d run over to a neighbour’s house to fix something five minutes after getting the call. His store was fully stocked; if you needed a special part, he had it.

However, all this changed after arthritis struck him down one summer. He had trouble moving his hands and difficulty walking and bending his knees. When I saw him, his ailment had been written off as the simple, but cruel act of time [“old age,” he was told], but I wasn’t so easily convinced of that. He’d been healthy all his life and enjoyed swimming and playing racquetball with his friends every week. He was a robust, energetic man who’d always been told he was the picture of health and that he’d never get old. Even though he had a hard time walking, he still gave the impression of strength and vitality. Could it really be that old age had suddenly dealt him this blow?

We ran a lot of tests investigating the possibility of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. We tested his blood for vitamin deficiencies and took X-rays of his joints. Sure enough, the X-rays of his hip showed significant degeneration, but his knees and shoulders looked clear. He wasn’t taking any supplements at the time, but his vitamin levels were normal. His diet, however, left much to be desired. He snacked on pretzels and potato chips and roasted peanuts. He loved a good hamburger, or steak. He told me that cake was his weakness even though it nearly always gave him indigestion.

Dietary Changes

When I told him that he would need to alter his diet radically, like many patients he looked crestfallen. But, he told me that if this dietary change would restore his health and allow him to play catch with his grandson, he would do whatever was necessary. I put him on a diet rich in vegetables, eliminated red meat entirely, and started him on fish four times a week. He began taking 6gm of fish oil a day — twelve 500-milligram capsules — with vitamin E and vitamin C to protect from oxidation.

I saw him monthly, over the course of the year, and noticed a steady improvement over time. He, too, could see the improvement — he was swimming regularly. His hip, however, did not improve, and the long-term damage done by his lifestyle could not be reversed. He actually decided to undergo hip surgery so that he would one day get back on the racquetball court. A year later he said, “I’ve never felt this well in my life.” He’d lost twenty-five pounds, was fit, had high levels of energy, and he told me that he literally felt twenty years younger.

Vegetarians may wonder what dietary option they have if they don’t eat fish. Flaxseed oil is a plant counterpart to fish oil and an excellent alternative for most vegetarians. It contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids that, when converted by an enzyme in the body, turn into the active eicosinoids found in fish oil. However, I find that most vegetarians eat too little of these essential oils, concentrating instead on the polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in corn oil and safflower oil, which can ultimately promote inflammation.

Yet Another Case In Point

This was the case of May Ireland, a vivacious thirty-seven-year-old homemaker who first noticed her asthma flaring up during a series of brush fires that swept through her hometown in Idaho. These fires sent black plumes of smoke over her home for months at a time. Chronic exposure to smoke wore down her lungs’ ability to fight inflammation. She needed a fire-fighter inside her lungs.

May had read an article I’d written about asthma in a magazine, and she flew in from Idaho to see me. She agreed to take fish oil supplements, along with flaxseed oil as a backup — though she staunchly refused to eat fish. She took 3gm a day of both, in capsules, along with vitamin E to counter any oxidation of these oils. I also put her on my complete asthma programme, including magnesium, antioxidants, environmental testing and clean-up, breathing exercises, and dietary changes. Once her condition improved, she was able to wean herself from the fish oil capsules and just keep flaxseed oil in her diet.

I’m not surprised she was helped. Many studies have shown that fish oil helps asthma. A study in The International Archives of Allergy and Applied Immunology treated twelve asthmatics with a diet high in omega-3s for one year. After nine months, their ability to breathe was significantly improved. Another study in The Medical Journal of Australia found that eating fish more than once a week reduced asthma in children.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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