October 5, 2012 -- It seems there’s a never-ending see-saw battle in scientific research about certain consumables. Red wine will decrease incidence of cardiovascular disease! No it won’t. Dark chocolate will lower your body mass index! Or not.
Seafood is no different. For every report that Omega 3 fatty acids are the fountain of youth, there’s another study warning seafood lovers about looming poison from excessive quantities of heavy metals, especially mercury. But are Omega 3s really that beneficial? And what to make of reports that selenium in fish can counterbalance the negative effects of mercury? And just what the hell is selenium, anyway? What’s the truth about fish?
Of course, there’s no black-and-white answer, but I’ll try to sort through a few of the bigger issues and provide a bit of guidance about what to look for at the fish counter to maximize the benefits and reduce your risk.
First of all, a disclaimer: I’m an ocean policy wonk, not a doctor, so take all this info with a grain of salt (figuratively, people, watch that blood pressure!) and ask your doctor if you have deeper questions—particularly if you’re pregnant.
Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say about Omega 3’s. (I’m using the Mayo primarily because my mother-in-law treats it like an oracle. And if there’s one lesson from this column that has nothing to do with fish it’s that you should seize every chance you get to make nice with your mother-in-law.)
There is supportive evidence from multiple studies that suggests the intake of recommended amounts of [fatty acids] DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements lowers triglycerides; reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease; slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques (“hardening of the arteries”), and lowers blood pressure slightly.
Omega 3s from fish are considered superior to Omega 3s from other sources such as eggs or flax seeds because they contain the fatty acids DHA and EPA (let’s go ahead and skip the multisyllabic mouthfuls that make up these guys’ actual names), which are the gold standards when it comes to proteins.
Or are they? Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal wrote about a study that found no evidence of benefits from use of Omega 3 supplements. Yet the article goes on to describe various ways in which this study was potentially skewed, and it notes that:
Thousands of studies since the 1970s have shown that people with high levels of omega-3s have lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, less inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease. Those with low levels of omega-3s are more likely to be depressed, to commit suicide and have memory loss and brain shrinkage as they age.
So let’s see, one study saying there’s no discernible positive impact, against thousands of studies over four decades showing Omega 3s can make your heart work better for longer and prevent your brain from shrinking. I know whose side I’m on. Score one big thumbs up for fish.
Read the full story at the Center for American Progress