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The Fishy Truth Behind Omega 3 Diets

CANADA - Until renewable sources of omega-3 fatty acids become more generally available, it would seem responsible to refrain from advocating to people in developed countries that they increase consumption, concluded a recent Canadian report.

The report, entitled: Are dietary recommendations for the use of fish oils sustainable? - published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said that evidence for the comprehensive benefits of increased fish oil consumption is not as clear-cut as protagonists suggest, including the strongest evidence to date that indicates a 15 per cent benefit in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The evidence is even less convincing for the benefits of fish oil for growth and brain development in infants, mental health, and the prevention of dementia, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.

According to the report, even if the evidence were more compelling, the development of dietary guidelines that may have large-scale environmental consequences does not seem wise. "An assessment of the environmental impact of such guidelines should be considered before the guidelines are issued, as it should for all clinical and public health recommendations that include dietary interventions," it said. "The environmental threat posed by an increase in fish consumption has now become obvious. Aquaculture does not appear to be a viable answer, and further endangering the food supply in developing countries clearly has harmful implications."

The report concluded that it is vital to continue with studies aimed at clarifying the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. It is equally crucial that we continue to develop and evaluate alternative sources of omega-3 fatty acids that are sustainable.

Key points

  • International agencies concerned with health, together with medical and nutritional health communities, unanimously recommend the consumption of fish by the general public.

  • The advice is based primarily on the benefits to heart function of the long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils, although brain development, mental health and the prevention of cancer, autoimmune diseases and diabetes are also cited.

  • Insufficient attention has been paid to individual studies and meta-analyses that fail to establish a significant benefit to health of omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Insufficient attention has also been paid to the potential environmental impact of increased fish consumption, given the serious decline in global fish stocks.

  • Research is needed to clarify the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. At the same time, alternative sources of omega-3 fatty acids should be sought.

  • Dietary recommendations to increase fish consumption may not be sustainable.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

the Fish Site Editor

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