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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Understanding Omega-3 Options: Eating Fish or Supplementing

By Michael McBurney

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Report, dietary patterns emphasizing seafood are generally associated with health benefits in the brain, cardiovascular system, weight management and cancer prevention. Why? Because seafoods contain omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

DHA is a building block for all cells in the body, especially important for maintaining the structure and function of the brain, and DHA and EPA play an important role in cardiovascular health.

How much fish does one need to eat? Using a massive dataset collected from 12 prospective cohort studies with 672,389 participants and 57,641 deaths, Zhao and colleagues report that the highest category of fish intake was associated with a 6% significantly lower risk of all-cause mortality (relative to the lowest category). The greatest increased risk of mortality occurred in people consuming less than 60g of fish per day (~2 ounces daily).

Numerous scientific organizations recommend eating sufficient fish to obtain a daily intake of 500 mg EPA & DHA. The omega-3 content of fish varies. Fresh fatty fish (herring, salmon, mackerel) can have >1,000 mg omega-3 per 2 ounces (~60g) whereas tuna and canned salmon/mackerel may range between 666 to 1,000 mg per 2 ounces. Flounder, Pollock, grouper, and sole are lower in omega-3s (135-333 mg per 2 oz).

So our readers don’t have to do the calculation, the 500 mg/d DHA and EPA recommendation requires one to eat ~2 ounces of fatty fresh fish every other day or a serving of other types of fish daily. Many people do not like eating this much fish.

As an alternative, try using an omega-3 dietary supplement. Read the label for DHA and EPA content. Most omega-3 supplements are derived by processing krill or fish. If you are concerned about krill harvests or overfishing, algal oils produced commercially in laboratories may be your best choice to obtain your daily requirements for DHA and EPA.

Main Citation

Zhao L-G, Sun J-W, Yang Y, Ma X, Wang Y-Y, Xiang Y-B. Fish consumption and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. 2015 EJCN doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2015.72

Other Citations

Salem Jr N, Vandal M, Calon F. The benefit of docosahexaenoic acid for the adult brain in aging and dementia. 2015 PLEFA doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2014.010.003

Kuratko CN, Nolan CC, Salem J, N. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular health. 2014 Nutrafoods doi: 10.1007/s13749-014-0020-7

Salem Jr N, Eggersdorfer M. Is the world supply of omega-3 fatty acids adequate for optimal human nutrition? 2015 Curr Opinion Clin Nutr Metabolic Care doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000145