There’s Nothing Fishy About the Health Benefits of Omega-3s

By on April 22, 2017

Fish oils—in particular, omega-3s—are one of the most important nutrients for the entire family. There have been more than 27,000 published studies on omega-3s, making them one of the most studied nutrients in the world. Omega-3s offer a variety of health benefits, including supporting cardiovascular, immune, brain, vision, and joint health.

In children, omega-3s are shown to promote brain development; impact behavior and learning abilities; and support comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and reading skills. The most beneficial omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Recently, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston studied data collected over 11 years on the dietary habits and health of 20,551 male physicians ages 40 to 84. They found that eating seafood containing omega-3s at least once a week was associated with a 52% lower risk of sudden cardiac death. 

The omega-3 index may be a powerful indicator of heart disease risk and is recognized as the sum of EPA and DHA as a percentage of total fatty acids, or [(EPA+DHA) / total PLFA] x 100. An omega-3 index of >8% is associated with 90% less risk for sudden cardiac death (SCD), as compared to an omega-3 index of <4%. Taking EPA and DHA can reduce the incidence of SCD by anywhere from 45 to 90%. Just 1,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily is found to positively impact our omega-3 index.

But the study that really changed the acceptance of EPA and DHA for those with heart issues and as a preventative regimen was the Gissi Prevenzione Trial, which studied 11,000 myocardial infarction survivors. One group was given a placebo, while the other was given 1 gram daily of omega-3s, including EPA and DHA. The group taking omega-3s had a 20% decrease in total deaths, a 30% decrease in cardiovascular deaths, and a 45% decrease in sudden deaths over a four-year period versus the placebo group.

The Gissi Prevenzione Trial led to widespread recommendation of EPA and DHA by groups like the Global Organization of EPA and DHA (GOED). It also helped establish omega-3 daily intake recommendations based on the scientific findings. For the general, healthy adult population, 500 mg of omega-3s are recommended to lower the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). For pregnancy and lactation, an additional 200 mg of DHA per day is recommended. For secondary prevention of CHD, 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA daily is recommended. More than 1,000 mg per day is recommended for a range of additional health conditions such as elevated blood pressure and/or triglycerides. 

Omega-3s are also beneficial for children. The Dolab Study included 493 children, ages 7 to 9, who had below average reading performance and low omega-3 index percentages. Researchers set out to determine if DHA supplementation would improve reading, working memory, and behavior—they all improved significantly. The health benefits of omega-3s were also studied in the Oxford Durham Trial, which included 120 kids, ages 6 to 12. They were given 558 mg of EPA and 174 mg of DHA from fish oil, and 60 mg of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) from evening primrose oil. Learning and behavior greatly improved, and concentration and reading dramatically improved. 

Like fish oil, cod liver oil provides the important omega-3s EPA and DHA but with the added benefit of vitamins A and D. Vitamins A and D support immune system health, which is especially important during the months of September through April, when kids aren’t outside in the sun, which means their bodies likely aren’t producing enough vitamin D. Both fish oil and cod liver oil are excellent sources of omega-3s, which studies show help maintain healthy cells; support the structure of our nervous system; and promote heart, brain, vision, joint, skin, and immune health. Omega-3s are important for the entire family. Try adding omega-3s to your routine for a daily health boost—there’s nothing fishy about it.

References
W.S. Harris, “The Omega-3 Index as a Risk Factor for Coronary Heart Disease,” Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 87 (6), 1997S–2002S (2008).

Relationship between the total EPA and DHA (expressed as the Omega-3 Index) and sudden cardiac death. Data are from Dr. C.M. Albert and colleagues (2).

C.M. Albert, et al., “Blood Levels of Long-Chain N-3 Fatty Acids and the Risk of Sudden Death,” N. Engl. J. Med. 346 (15), 1113–1118 (2002).
 

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