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Fish Consumption Advice for Alaskans

The scientific literature explores this potential influence of absolute or relative omega-3 deficiency, and the potential effect of supplementation, on a variety of chronic diseases, including arthritis and inflammation, depression, skin disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, eye disorders, cancer and cancer therapy,

neonatal growth and development, pregnancy outcome, and immune function.108

In recent years, the amount

of research and number of publications has increased exponentially, and have consistently supported the health benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. 109

Neonatal Growth and Development and Healthy Pregnancies Humans appear to have evolved on a diet with a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. The current ratio, up to 25:1, may be inadequate to meet omega-3 needs for optimal health, especially during pregnancy. Increased omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid consumption during pregnancy may result in decreased frequency of or risk from eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and pre-term delivery. In the United States, the annual cost of pre-term births is several billion dollars, with significant long-term implications for health and quality of life. 110

Polyunsaturated fatty acids, predominately in the form of DHA, are present in large amounts in the grey

matter of the brain, nerve synapses, the retina of the eye and other specific body locations.111-113

During the

third trimester, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are selectively mobilized to meet the demands of

increased neural and vascular growth.114,115

Of all adult brain cells, 70% are formed before birth. Omega-3

polyunsaturated fatty acid concentrations and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for optimal brain and retinal development, maturation of the visual cortex, and motor skill development.116-121 More recent reviews of the literature support an association between increased maternal intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with increased gestational length in newborns. 110,120

Findings of diminished omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in cell membranes during lactation and pregnancy have led some nutritionists to speculate a need for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy to promote optimal brain and visual development.116,122 Maternal DHA status during pregnancy, and the availability of optimal DHA levels to the developing fetal brain, is largely dependent on the maternal diet. 123

The recent EPA/FDA advice, which recommends limiting fish consumption to 12 ounces per week,2 might actually be harmful to early child development. A recent study of nearly 12,000 pregnant women in the United Kingdom found that maternal seafood intake during pregnancy of less than 12 ounces per week was associated with increased risk of their children being in the lowest quartile for verbal IQ, compared with mothers who consumed more than 12 ounces per week.124 Other outcomes negatively affected by eating 12 ounces of seafood per week or less included prosocial behavior, and development of fine motor, communication, and social development skills. For each outcome measure, the higher the maternal seafood intake the less likely the infant was to have a suboptimum score.

Reduction in Cardiovascular Disease Initial observations of a decreased prevalence of ischemic heart disease among the Greenland Eskimos prompted investigations into the possible beneficial effects of consuming fish and marine oils. Greenlandic Eskimos have significantly lower levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides, higher levels of high density

lipoproteins, and decreased platelet aggregability than Danish comparisons.125,126

The effect of omega-3

polyunsaturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease has since developed into an area of intense scientific interest, with numerous publications available, nearly all of which document beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. The strength of the evidence prompted the American Heart Association in 2000 to provide the following dietary guideline: “Because of increased evidence for the cardiovascular benefits of fish (particularly fatty fish), consumption of at least 2 fish servings per week is now recommended.” 127


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