The health benefits of omega-3 fats in fish

May 1, 2001 in Cancer Prevention, Gastrointestinal Health, Healthy Eating, Heart Health

The health benefits of omega-3 fats in fish

There's a growing body of evidence that the health benefits of fish oils are so manifest, and so varied, that they may soon be considered a legitimate and widely used health aid rather than a simple, healthy food product.

In the April 24, 2001 issue of the New York Times, several current and recent health studies were examined, covering fish oils' effects on a broad array of illnesses, conditions and diseases. While the consensus among health professionals is that more extensive research is needed, every study cited fatty fish, including sardines, tuna and salmon, to be legitimate a health aid and in some cases, a critical dietary component.

The recent health findings include:

Heart Disease -- Last year, the American Medical Association recommended that people eat two servings of fatty fish per week. The AMA concluded that there is a beneficial effect on nerve conduction in the heart, which can help forestall potentially dangerous cardiac arrhythmia. Fatty acids may also prevent heart attacks due to clotting, help reduce atherosclerosis and reduce blood triglyceride levels.

Stroke -- A study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who ate fish once per week suffered strokes at a rate 22 percent less than women who ate fish just once per month. The health benefits increased with greater levels of fish consumption. Women who ate fish five times per week were 50 percent less likely to have an ischemic (clotting, rather than hemmorrhagic) stroke than the control group.

Arthritis -- The anti-inflammatory properties of fish oils have been put to the test in more than a dozen studies, and the medical consensus is that people with rheumatoid arthritis can mitigate their symptoms with regular consumption of fish. Fish oils were found to be particularly effective in lessening levels of joint stiffness and fatigue.

Crohn's Disease -- A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine of patients with Crohn's disease and chronic irritable bowel syndrome indicated that more than half of the people studied remained symptom-free if they took omega-3 oils along with their medication.

Mental Health -- Among the most intriguing and important developments in fish oil research has been the potential it has to address mental disorders and psychiatric health. Dr. Andrew L. Stoll, director of the Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital found that in a small study, the patients he was treating for bipolar disorders did so much better with fish oil supplements, he began administering the treatment to his control groups halfway through the study. In his recent book, "The Omega-3 Connection," Stoll argues that, while research on psychiatric applications was still in its infancy, omega-3 fats are a critical component of brain health and may help mitigate a wide range of psychiatric disorders.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have found a link between omega-3 fatty acids and depression, asserting that decreased levels of an certain omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, were directly linked to depression. A large study is under way at the National Institute of Mental Health to verify these links between Omega-3s and mood disorders.

Best Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Sardines
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Herring
  • Lake trout
  • Salmon
  • Striped bass
  • Tuna*
  • Atlantic Halibut
  • Channel catfish
  • Shrimp
  • Dungeness crab
  • Swordfish*
  • Red snapper

*Note: Women of childbearing age and young children should avoid tuna steaks and swordfish as they are high in mercury. 

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.