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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Fish and Algal Omega-3 Oils are Important for Health

By Michael McBurney

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for cardiovascular, immune, eye, and brain function. Most people do not consume recommended amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from their diet. How do you know if your omega-3 intake is sufficient? The omega-3 index, the percentage of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in red blood cells, is the best longterm measure of omega-3 status.

Some of you may have read news articles that fish oil claims are not supported by research. There are quotes that the ‘era of fish oil as a medication’ should be considered over now. Maybe some people prefer to postpone action until their physician prescribes pharmaceuticals – statins, beta blockers and blood thinners – but it is my opinion that nutrition and physical activity should always be the first course of action.

The reality is that many of us do not consume recommended amounts of omega-3s. Cardiac societies recommend 1g daily of EPA and DHA for those with known disease. Two meals of oily fish weekly provide only 400-500 mg/d.

A cross-sectional survey of middle-aged French men and women finds that low a low omega-3 index is largely explained by an insufficient intake of omega-3 from seafood. Supplementation with EPA and DHA-rich fish or algal-oils increases the omega-3 index. Among children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, supplementation increases their omega-3 index which was significantly correlated with changes in core symptoms. Higher PUFA concentrations are associated with lower osteoporotic fracture risk in older adults. Based on all available studies from around the world, blood omega-3 concentrations are inversely associated with risk of fatal coronary heart disease.

Don’t believe the scaremongers. EPA and DHA are nutrients with physiological effects. Everyone should be encouraged to maintain an omega-3 index above 8%. Having adequate amounts of DHA and EPA in red blood cells helps support normal, healthy cellular and organ functions.

Main Citation

Wagner A, Simon C, Morio B, Dallongeville J, Ruidavets JB, Haas B, Laillet B, Cottel D, Ferrieres J, Arveiler D. Omega-3 index levels and associated factors in a middle-aged French population: The MONA LISA-NUT study. 2015 EJCN doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.219

Other Citations

Ooi YP, Weng S-J, Jang LY, Low L, Seah J, Teo S, Ang RP, Lim CG, Liew A, Fung DS, Sung M. 2015 EJCN doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2015.28

Von Shacky C, Harris WS. Cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. 2007 Cardiovascular Res doi: 10.1016/j.cardiores.2006.08.019

Lee JH, O’Keefe MH,  Lavie CJ, Machioli R, Harris WS. Omega-3 fatty acids for cardioprotection. 2008 Mayo Clinic Proc doi: 10.4065/83.3.324

Harris TB, Song X, Reinders I, Lang TF, Garcia ME, Siggeirsdottir K, Sigurdsson S, Gudnasaon V, Eiriksdottir G, Sigurdsson G, Steingrimsdottir L, Aspelund T, Brouwer IA, Murphy RA. Plasma phospholipid fatty acids and fish-oil consumption in relations to osteoporotic fracture risk in older adults: the Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility Study. 2015 Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.087502