Confession time: I don’t like eating seafood—at all! Aside from an occasional foray into shrimp scampi, my body doesn’t see many ocean-derived nutrients.
“My diet is fine,” I tell myself. Besides, I already take an antioxidant-charged multivitamin along with a fruit/vegetable extract to make up for my dietary insufficiencies and genetic limitations. What could I be missing?
PLENTY. For starters, here is a partial list of the health benefits linked to the regular consumption of moderate amounts of omega-3 fats found in fish oils.
- Decreased risk of coronary heart disease
- Decreased severity of asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction
- Decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
- Decreased incidence/severity of depression
- Decreased severity of arthritis
- Decreased risk of premature birth
- Possible prevention of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and improved academic performance (if consumed during preschool years)
- Omega 3s may even offer benefits at the gym.
Healthy Fats and Exercise
Recent research has uncovered additional benefits of healthy fats, such as reducing exercise-induced inflammation and decreasing fatigue during endurance exercise. In a recent study at the University of Florida, 40 healthy men were given a supplement containing 300 mg mixed tocopherols, 300 mg flavonoids, and 800 mg of the omega-3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for 14 days.
On day seven, they performed an exercise bout designed to induce muscle damage/soreness, not unlike what many of us would do during a typical weight-training workout. Results indicated significant decreases in two serum markers of inflammation for the DHA-based supplement compared to the placebo.
In another study from the University of Missouri, men and women given 4 grams of omega 3s for one month were able to extend their treadmill running time by approximately 5 percent, possibly as a result of lowering their tryptophan levels in the blood. Conversion of tryptophan to serotonin in the brain is linked to sleepiness and fatigue—as are Thanksgiving turkey and football.
No Fish Tale
As a result of these and other studies, in 2004 omega-3 fats became the second food ingredient to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a qualified health claim. Because the folks at FDA are a conservative lot and require vast amounts of substantiation when it comes to granting qualified health claims, being able to legally say, “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease” is a really big deal!
How much omega-3 fat is really necessary to optimize health? U.K. scientists suggest that people consume a minimum of 450 mg of combined EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA per day. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults eat at least two 3-ounce servings of fish per week (or 0.5 to 1.8 grams of EPA and DHA combined daily) to reduce their risk of heart disease. However, FDA has warned that adults should not exceed more than 3 grams per day of EPA and DHA, and no more than 2 grams per day from dietary supplements.
FDA’s concern of fish oil-induced blood thinning is prudent for individuals taking other blood-thinning compounds (e.g., aspirin, coumarin, ginkgo, and ginger). A final caveat is that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid eating fish that have been shown to contain high levels of mercury, such as swordfish and shark. In these cases, and for all consumers concerned about toxicity in fish, high-quality supplements are preferable for bolstering dietary omega-3 intake.