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High doses of omega 3 might prevent obesity related disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Omega 3 fatty acids

Eskimo study suggests omega 3 intake cuts health risks of obesity

Researchers say Yup'ik Eskimos who eat 20 times the amount of fish as those in other parts of the U.S. seem to be protected from diabetes and heart disease even though obesity rates are high. The findings suggest high omega 3 intake could curb disease risks that accompany being overweight or obese.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Lead author Zeina Makhoul, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Cancer Prevention Program of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center says Yup'ik Eskimos have a traditional diet that includes large amounts of fatty fish.

The Eskimos also have the same rates of overweight and obesity as that of the general U.S. population. She explains …” this offered a unique opportunity to study whether omega-3 fats change the association between obesity and chronic disease risk."

For the study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers measured levels of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA that come from eating salmon, sardines and other fatty fish among 330 people living in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region of southwest Alaska.

High levels of omega 3 fatty acids might protect from harmful effect of obesity

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The researchers found high levels of omega 3 fatty acids in the blood stream were associated with lower triglycerides and lower CRP levels that are markers of inflammation and linked to higher risk of heart disease and perhaps diabetes.

The Eskimos in the study have rates of obesity that parallel the rest of the United States, but the incidence of type 2 diabetes is just 3.3 percent versus 7.7 percent in other States. “However, the new finding was that obesity did not increase these risk factors among study participants with high blood levels of omega-3 fats”, explained senior author Alan Kristal, Dr. P.H., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division.

Omega 3 rich seafood seems to protect the Yup'ik Eskimos from some of the harmful effects of obesity that is prevalent.

The authors say it is “reasonable” to pursue whether higher intake of omega 3 fatty acids could prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but they also note past studies show high doses of fish oil supplements can be harmful. They also say it may be other factors such a lifestyle and genes that account for the lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes found in the study.

Increasing fatty fish consumption is recommended for heart disease prevention. The researchers say a randomized clinical trial is needed to show if high levels of omega 3 fatty acids could reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes for obese individuals that is suggested from the Eskimo study.

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition , (23 March 2011) | doi:10.1038/ejcn.2011.39
"Associations of obesity with triglycerides and C-reactive protein are attenuated in adults with high red blood cell eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids"
Z Makhoul, A R Kristal, R Gulati, B Luick, A Bersamin, D O'Brien, S E Hopkins, C B Stephensen, K L Stanhope, P J Havel and B Boyer