Omega 3 and fish — what’s the latest advice?

By Amanda Johnson 16/11/2010 8


The International Seafood and Health Conference took place in Melbourne on 7-10 November 2010. This was a great gathering of international experts and researchers who presented new data on this important topic.

We often hear about omega-3 fats being a panacea for good health, with claims made that range from increasing your child’s intelligence and learning ability, through to reducing risk of heart disease and helping those with arthritis. But what’s the latest scientific evidence saying? And how much seafood should we be eating for optimal health.

Here is a summary of some of the latest information in this area:

Nutrients in fish

Fish is a good source of protein, is one of the richest sources of the beneficial long chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and provides B vitamins, iodine, selenium, zinc, iron and (if eaten with the bones) some calcium.

Chronic disease

There is good evidence that the very long chain omega-3 fatty acids provide protection against heart disease, particularly in terms of reducing the risk of CHD death. EPA and DHA have an anti-thrombotic effect and help to reduce plasma triglycerides. Recent research is also suggestive of a protective effect against some types of cancer (for example colon, breast and prostate cancer) although we do need to see a lot more evidence before we can make firm recommendations in this area. The protein in fish may help you to feel fuller for longer. But if you are on a weight-reducing diet then obviously you need to be thinking about other aspects of your diet as well, along with increasing your activity levels. Another interesting area of research is rheumatoid arthritis and some evidence seems to suggest that a supplement of fish oils (about 2.7g per day) can be helpful in reducing morning stiffness and reducing tenderness in the joints.

Learning and development among kids

There is lots of fascinating research in this area. We know that DHA is an important constituent of the brain and that infants born pre-term need extra DHA in their diet — but will providing extra DHA be helpful for normal healthy children? Some research suggests a beneficial effect of eating fish 1-3 times a week during pregnancy on the neurodevelopment of offspring, however overall results from the research in this area are mixed. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month showed that omega-3 supplements during pregnancy may be effective in preventing cognitive delay in some susceptible children, but overall there was no significant benefit in terms of neurodevelopment (check out the SMC Science Alert on this). We certainly need to see a lot more research in this area to determine if increasing omega-3 intakes during pregnancy will be beneficial.

Staying healthy in older age

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that omega-3 may be important for good cognitive function later in life and for reducing risk of dementia. We need to see a lot more research here as well — but early results are promising.

Current advice

So, overall, fish provides a great, nutrient-dense package of goodness — and it’s quick and easy to cook (take a look at the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council’s website for some great recipe ideas and cooking tips). Having fish-based meals during pregnancy may help cognitive development in the young, and for older people may reduce cognitive decline. Further, fish may help with reducing risk and alleviating symptoms of a range of chronic diseases.

It’s a very exciting area of research and there are many studies currently underway both here in New Zealand and overseas. Watch this space for more on this important area of research as it becomes available

Further information

Check out my new report, which reviews a lot of the latest science in this area: The Role of seafood in a healthy diet.

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –>

Omega 3 and fish — what’s the latest advice?

The International Seafood and Health Conference took place in Melbourne on 7-10 November 2010. This was a great gathering of international experts and researchers who presented new data on this important topic.

We often hear about omega-3 fats being a panacea for good health, with claims made that range from increasing your child’s intelligence and learning ability, through to reducing risk of heart disease and helping those with arthritis. But what’s the latest scientific evidence saying? And how much seafood should we be eating for optimal health.

Here is a summary of some of the latest information in this area:

Nutrients in fish

Fish is a good source of protein, is one of the richest sources of the beneficial long chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and provides B vitamins, iodine, selenium, zinc, iron and (if eaten with the bones) some calcium.

Chronic disease

There is good evidence that the very long chain omega-3 fatty acids provide protection against heart disease, particularly in terms of reducing the risk of CHD death. EPA and DHA have an anti-thrombotic effect and help to reduce plasma triglycerides. Recent research is also suggestive of a protective effect against some types of cancer (for example colon, breast and prostate cancer) although we do need to see a lot more evidence before we can make firm recommendations in this area. The protein in fish may help you to feel fuller for longer. But if you are on a weight-reducing diet then obviously you need to be thinking about other aspects of your diet as well, along with increasing your activity levels. Another interesting area of research is rheumatoid arthritis and some evidence seems to suggest that a supplement of fish oils (about 2.7g per day) can be helpful in reducing morning stiffness and reducing tenderness in the joints.

Learning and development among kids

There is lots of fascinating research in this area. We know that DHA is an important constituent of the brain and that infants born pre-term need extra DHA in their diet — but will providing extra DHA be helpful for normal healthy children? Some research suggests a beneficial effect of eating fish 1-3 times a week during pregnancy on the neurodevelopment of offspring, however overall results from the research in this area are mixed. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month showed that omega-3 supplements during pregnancy may be effective in preventing cognitive delay in some susceptible children, but overall there was no significant benefit in terms of neurodevelopment (check out the SMC Science Alert on this). We certainly need to see a lot more research in this area to determine if increasing omega-3 intakes during pregnancy will be beneficial.

http://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/2010/10/20/fish-oil-during-pregnancy-benefits-questioned/

Staying healthy in older age

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that omega-3 may be important for good cognitive function later in life and for reducing risk of dementia. We need to see a lot more research here as well — but early results are promising.

Current advice

So, overall, fish provides a great, nutrient-dense package of goodness — and it’s quick and easy to cook (take a look at the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council’s website www.greatestmeal.co.nz for some great recipe ideas and cooking tips). Having fish-based meals during pregnancy may help cognitive development in the young, and for older people may reduce cognitive decline. Further, fish may help with reducing risk and alleviating symptoms and reducing risk of a range of chronic diseases.

It’s a very exciting area of research and there are many studies currently underway both here in New Zealand and overseas. Watch this space for more on this important area of research as it becomes available

Further information

Check out my new report, which reviews a lot of the latest science in this area: The Role of seafood in a healthy diet.


8 Responses to “Omega 3 and fish — what’s the latest advice?”

  • Yes, although we often look out for special offers, or shop at the end of the day when often the fish is reduced. There is also, of course, the tinned fish, which is usually quite affordable! Also, fish is so packed full of nutrients that a little can go a long way – mixed up into a pasta dish or a potato-topped pie for example.

  • I blush to admit it – but I don’t even like fish… Which is a matter of some annoyance to my significant other, who is a keen fisherman!

  • Was any *recent* evidence presented that show a decrease in CHD death, arthritis, or other conditions from consuming omega-3s? The program for the conference doesn’t mention rheumatoid arthritis, and I think the 2.7g recommendation dates back to Cleland in the ’90s.

    It seems as though as the research moves from observational studies to large scale interventional trials the effects of omega-3s are dwindling. E.g., the link you brought up: “The results do not support those of previous studies implicating omega-3 fatty acids for depression and infant brain development.”

    Early results are always promising – if they aren’t, no one talks about them outside of the lab.

  • Oh – what a shame! Although you raise another great point – for those with relatives or significant others who are keen on fishing – the fish is free! How cool is that!

  • We have some local sources- usually can get something like tarakihi or blue moki or red cod etc for close to $20 per kg for fillets. Which isn’t I feel too bad given the nutritional content.

    One of the tastier dishes I cook at home is modeled on the Genoese burrida. Basically a Mediterranean fish stew cooked in tomato base with various Mediterranean veges.

  • hibob –

    Yes, I think there is good evidence that fish can protect against CHD.

    I am not aware of any recent research on arthritis and I would really like to see more evidence in this important area.

    I think the evidence for brain development is interesting. Yes, the results of the latest study “did not support findings of previous studies”, however I don’t think this is the end of the story! The recent study did find that omega-3 supplements may be effective in preventing cognitive delay in some susceptible children, and it may be that more targeted strategies are needed for those most at risk. Also – we need to be careful we don’t just dismiss previous research – as Dr Sinn states in the SMC science alert, “we need to be very cautious about drawing any firm conclusions from these results. Given the established importance of DHA for brain structure, development and function, coupled with the low intake of the Australian population, I believe we have to be very careful about advising women that they do not need to take DHA in pregnancy based on the results.”

    I think it will be very interesting to see the results of further research in this area.

  • I hear what you are saying, but I would like to have your message tempered a little, because I think there are aspects to the message around consuming more fish that ought to be mentioned alongside this message, every time it is uttered. Recently I went to my daughter’s kindergarden, where the “eat fish” message had been delivered to all attendants. I asked if the teachers were aware of the global over fishing crisis and they had never heard of a fishing crisis, which came as a shock to me. Having been involved in a biodiversity fish research group in a previous life, I am only too aware of the enormity of this problem and I wished more ordinary consumers were made aware of this.

    Please note, I am NOTadvocating we stop eating fish (although flax oil is also a good source of Omega3), but following the guidelines of the overfishing web pages
    (http://overfishing.org/pages/what_can_I_do_to_help.php)
    I would advocate to have a good look at what fish you eat.

    Some fisheries are close to collapse, but there are alternative “under harvested” fish species that, if demanded by consumers, may allow the collapsed fisheries to recover. Consumers do have an important role to play in saving our marine biodiversity. Fisheries have to direct their efforts to satisfy a market, and this is where we can influence what is being caught and how much is being caught.