I recently heard of an older couple that eats salmon every day for breakfast. To my finicky palate that does not sound as appetizing as waffles. Why do they do it? They argue that salmon is the most perfect food on the planet, full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. They do it because they plan on living a long time.
Most of us know that fish makes for a healthier dinner than steak. It is lower in bad cholesterol and a few other things. But numerous studies support the hypothesis that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have positive effects on a whole list of chronic disorders. Among these are high triglycerides, arthritis, Chrohn’s disease, cancer, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery disease, and the neural development of children. To say it would be difficult to cover all these topics in a single essay is an understatement. But here are a few examples.
Japanese women have a much lower risk of breast cancer than do their American counterparts. However, Japanese women who move to America and adopt their dietary patterns have an equal risk of contracting breast cancer as American women within one generation. Women living in Japan have a high ratio of omega-3 fatty acids compared to omega-6 fatty acids in their breasts. Studies have shown that women with breast cancer have up to a five-fold higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Omega-6 imbalance has been shown to promote tumor growth.
Breast tissue changes in response to diet shift within about three months. Supplementing with three grams of fish oil a day (equivalent to eating two large salmon) has demonstrated a four-fold increase in the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the blood and a similar ratio increase in breast tissue thus decreasing the risk of contracting breast cancer.
The 1991 Rotterdam Study considered the incidence of chronic diseases among the elderly on a test population of 5,000 participants at least 55 years of age. In particular, the study focused on the effects of dietary fat intake in relation to these chronic ailments. Dietary profiles were collected including statistics of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and polyunsaturated fats. Particular attention was directed toward fish consumption because fish is high in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Of the total study population, 1.1% suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The statistics indicated a relation between Alzheimer’s and high saturated fat intakes. Fish consumption was associated with a low incidence of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s. Autopsies indicate that a decreased level of DHA in the hippocampus and frontal gray matter of the brain are associated with Alzheimer’s.
Saturated fats and cholesterol may negatively influence dementia because they affect cardiovascular health. Adverse cardiovascular events are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to this, omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to play a role in brain and neurological development in infants. Omega-3 may have dementia preventing powers as well.
Some studies have indicated that there is an adverse relationship between lowering blood cholesterol levels by dieting and medication and the emotional health of the individual. Increases of depression, suicide, and homicide have been linked to dieting. But it may not be hunger pangs that are the influencing factor. The quantity and distribution of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids may play a significant role by influencing serum lipids and altering the biophysical and biochemical properties of cell membranes. Epidemiological studies in various countries and in the United States in recent years suggest decreased omega-3 fatty acid consumption correlates with increasing rates of depression. This is consistent with the established relationship between coronary artery disease and depression. Omega-3 deficiency may also be related to the depression associated with alcoholism, postpartum depression, and multiple sclerosis.
What about attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? It has become an epidemic in our time resulting in millions of children being placed on medication. In addition to the fact that we are destroying the attention spans of kids by placing them in front of televisions and computers instead of good books, there may be dietary influences as well.
A 1995 study involved 96 boys in Indiana schools, 53 of which had been diagnosed with ADHD. Dietary intake statistics of essential fatty acids were established based on 3-day surveys of each boy. There were no significant differences between the ADHD boys and the others in relation to the consumption of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. An additional 22 measurements were taken designed to establish the lipid and fatty acid levels in each group.
It was found that the ADHD group possessed significantly lower amounts of specific lipid fatty acids in plasma and lower concentrations of total fatty acids in red blood cells than did the non-ADHD group. Since omega-3 is the primary polyunsaturated fatty acid found in the retina and cerebral cortex it was postulated that low levels of omega-3 might negatively affect proper brain function and therefore the ability to concentrate. What was not determined was whether the omega-3 deficiencies were due to inadequate intakes of the fatty acids or the individual ability to metabolize them. In either case, however, higher intakes of omega-3 through eating fish or taking fish oil supplements could help to raise omega-3 levels and therefore help counteract to effects of ADHD.