Over the past few years, I have enjoyed many a fine mackerel caught by a generous neighbour who fishes along the Sussex coast.

Fish is good for us, we have known it since the Seventies when scientists discovered Eskimos had a far lower rate of heart disease than those in many other countries, despite consuming large amounts of fat.

The Eskimo diet of deepsea cold-water fish, seals and whales was found to contain the valuable omega-3 oils EPA and DHA.

Fish oils are particularly effective in reducing inflammation and pain in arthritic conditions.

Eskimos eating the traditional diet rarely develop rheumatoid arthritis and several different studies confirm that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce symptoms of stiffness, pain and swelling.

In this country, mackerel and other oily fish (salmon, trout, herring, sardines) are your best sources of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. Or you could take supplements.

Fish oil is derived from two sources, either the flesh of fatty fish (e.g. salmon) or the livers of white fish such as cod and halibut.

Salmon oil contains a higher percentage of EPA and DHA than cod-liver oil.

However, cod liver is an excellent source of the vitamins A and D but don't exceed recommended daily intakes of these particular vitamins, particularly if pregnant.

Make sure you buy reputable brands packaged to safeguard the sensitive oils from light and oxygen, preferably with added vitamin E for extra antioxidant protection.

There has been concern about the safety of fish and its oils from polluted waters which may contain metals such as lead and mercury or cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals.

For those who are worried about environmental toxins or are vegetarian, it is possible to obtain small amounts of omega-3 fats from flaxseed (linseed), rapeseed oil, peanuts, walnuts and leafy green vegetables.

One tablespoon of flaxseed oil is roughly equivalent to one meal of oily fish per week.

Plant source oils, however, need to be converted by the body into longerchain derivatives (as found in oily fish) and people may vary in their ability to do this.

Those who don't benefit from plant sources but aren't keen on anything fishy, could try DHA extracted from marine algae.

Solgar's DHA capsules are available from many healthstores. Two capsules per day are equivalent to one oily fish meal a week (Tel. 01442- 890355 to order).

Although unlikely to be cured of the disease altogether, arthritis patients taking fish oils may be able to reduce their use of arthritis drugs.

Always seek professional advice on dosage, especially if you are taking bloodthinning medication.

And be aware the oil can take up to 12 weeks to be effective how well people respond depends on various nutritional and lifestyle factors.

It is clear some Eskimo habits are definitely worth a try although "rubbing noses" to welcome your friends might be taking things a little too far.