Food For Thought: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

I can see it coming: Whole Wheat Bran with Anchovies Bits. Salmon-Fortified Sports Elixir. Holy Mackerel Multi Grain Crackers with Sea Salt. Why not? Nanny Goat Cheese with Omega 3 is already here.

Researchers have found that foods rich in omega-3 acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is found in fatty salt water fish, are not only good for the heart but also stave off dementia. Conversely, as a Wall Street Journal subhed tells us, “People With Low Levels of Omega-3s Had Smaller Brains and Scored Lower on Memory Tests.”

“The changes in the brain were equivalent to about two years of normal brain aging, according to study's lead author, Dr. Zaldy Tan, a visiting associate professor in the geriatrics department of the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the UCLA Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research,” reports Jennifer Corbett Dooren. “Brains normally shrink as people age.”

While fish seems to be the preferred delivery vehicle for the omega-3s, some folks don’t eat it either because they are vegetarian or vegan or because they simply don’t like it. Foods such as avocados, walnuts and flax seeds are also rich in omega-3, Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz remind us, pointing out further benefits of the anti-inflammatory oils.

They “lubricate muscles, promote fertility, lower blood pressure, protect vision, help prevent dementia, cut the risk of some cancers, ease pain, reduce inflammation of osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, promote weight loss and improve your mood,” Roizen and Oz write.

Although supplementation has been getting bad press lately, Dr. Nancy Snyderman says that this is “one time where supplements can work,” in a report on the NBC Nightly News. ‘The American Heart Association recommends a daily dose of about 500 milligrams a day, which over a week adds up to the same two servings of fish” that’s generally recommended by scientists. “I think this one is, as we say, sort of a no-brainer,” she concludes.

Other observers this morning are worried about mercury levels in fish. The Food and Drug Administration maintains that “for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern,” although it has some cautions –- particularly for pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children.

The study is published today in the journal Neurology. Researchers measured levels of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells of 1,575 older people (average age 67) who were free of dementia, reports WebMD Health News’ Jennifer Warner. They were also evaluated for mental function and underwent MRI brain scans.

“The results showed that people whose DHA levels were in the bottom 25% of the group had lower brain volumes compared with people with higher DHA levels,” Warner writes. “In addition, people with both low DHA and all the other omega-3 fatty acid levels scored lower on tests of visual memory, processing, and abstract thinking.”

One commenter to the Wall Street Journal’s article who is concerned about mercury levels in seafood also asks if the study was “controlled for other factors that influence brain function, such as exercise and other elements in the diet? Of course not. No one goes to that trouble anymore.”

You ain’t kidding about exercise, brother. Not to mention virtual reality.

Ann Lukits reports in another Wall Street Journal piece about a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine that tested whether “stationary cycling with virtual reality tours (‘cybercycle’) will enhance executive function and clinical status more than traditional exercise,” among other hypotheses. Indeed, it found that “cybercycling older adults achieved better cognitive function than traditional exercisers, for the same effort, suggesting that simultaneous cognitive and physical exercise has greater potential for preventing cognitive decline.”

There is a “caveat,” however, as Lukits reports. “Six controls and seven cybercyclists reported adverse events, including knee and sciatica pain, respiratory illness and frustration with interacting with a computer.”

By the way, if you’ve been thinking about snaring Omega3.com, it’s is already taken (although not apparently actively used). It was registered in 1998 by Factor Nutrition Labs, LLC, and renewed in 2010 through 2018. GoDaddy’s Domain Variation Engine recommends alternatives such as TerminationThree.com but I don’t think that’s exactly the sentiment you’d be looking to convey.

Tags: food, health
Recommend (7) Print RSS
1 comment about "Food For Thought: Omega-3 Fatty Acids".
  1. Alan Westendal from West End Communications/Consul , February 28, 2012 at 9:56 a.m.
    One of the reasons there's so much faddishness to science-based nutrition claims is that the underlying studies are based on "association" among members of a population sample -- of the 200 people studied, the WW% who scored lowest for X were associated with YY% more Z than some other part of the studied population. That's interesting, but it doesn't demonstrate that X causes Z (or that Z causes X, for that matter), and it may be a stretch to posit that the 200 people in the study are truly representative of the broader population. In any case, the findings can become the basis for a new nutri-fad -- until the next study is published finding no association between X and Z, or, even more interesting, that the relationship is the reverse of the earlier one.