File this one under: Food Cures, Inuit-style. One of the worst-kept health secrets around is that a diet high in fatty fish oil is very healthful for the body. A study of a particular group of Native Americans in Alaska has yielded more insight into what fish mean to our health. It suggests that a high intake of omega-3 fats could prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
The Yup’ik Eskimos consume on average 20 times more omega-3s from fish than all other Americans. So, if you get two servings a week, they are getting 40! It is as if their culture is inherently giving us all health tips: don’t forget the fish and the fish oil. The study was published online in the “European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”
The researchers honed in on salmon, sardines and other fatty fish full of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) omega-3s. They are the ultimate fish oil food cures. They looked at a community of 330 in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region of southwest Alaska, 70% of whom were overweight or obese. They found that those with low levels of omega-3s had a much higher risk of high triglycerides and C-reactive protein (which is a measure of overall body inflammation). High levels of both raise the specter of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
These results are consistent with other studies — to a certain degree. The new finding here was that obesity did not in itself raise triglycerides and C-reactive proteins in people who eat lots of fish. This means that it appears consuming high amounts of omega-3-rich seafood protected these people from some of the harmful effects of obesity.
While Yup’ik Eskimos have the same trends for body weight as other Americans, their levels of diabetes is far lower — 3.3% versus 7.7%. Thus, the researchers believe this is at least in part due to their consumption of fish. People in the study were an average age of 45.
The researchers say there are good reasons to increase intake of fatty fish. While it will help shield you from heart disease (which is now well established), it may help even obese individuals block their risk of certain health issues that crop up when you are obese.
One thing is for sure: a good dose of health advice is that you shouldn’t skip the fish aisle in the grocery store.