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A slew of media reports encouraging you to eat more fish have surfaced lately, following the publication of a study on omega-3 fats and health. The research, published in
The Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests that eating oily fish once or twice a week may increase your lifespan.
Naturally, there’s still the issue of environmental pollution and contamination, which was not addressed in this study. Do the benefits of eating fish really outweigh the risks of contamination?
In my view, I believe the benefits CAN outweigh the risks, provided you make really wise choices. There are few uncontaminated fish available these days so you need to know what to look for.
Needless to say, toxins like mercury and PCB will not do your health any favors.
Lately, I’ve shifted my own diet a bit, and am now eating three ounces of Wild Alaskan salmon about every other day. But this is really the ONLY fish I’ll eat on a regular basis, and the only one I feel comfortable recommending as a good source of healthful fats.
Higher Blood Levels of Omega-3 Associated with Longer Life Span
The featured study investigated how eating fatty fish affected health. Nearly 2,700 American seniors in their seventies were included in the study. None of them had prevalent coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, or heart failure at the outset of the study.
Rather than rely on food diaries, the researchers measured blood levels of omega-3’s instead. Since none of the participants took omega-3 supplements, their levels were indicative of their omega-3 consumption primarily from fish.
Phospholipid fatty acid levels and cardiovascular risk factors were measured in 1992, and the relationships with mortality and incidents of fatal or non-fatal CHD and stroke were assessed through 2008 – a total of 16 years. According to the featured NPR article:2
“After controlling for factors like age, sex and lifestyle, the researchers found that, on average, adults with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids lived 2.2 years longer. In particular, these adults had a 35 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease – which is in line with other studies that have tied omega-3’s to cardiovascular benefits. Higher levels of fatty acids were most strongly associated with decreased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.”
Compared to those in the lowest percentiles, those with omega-3 blood levels in the highest 20 percent were:
• 27 percent less likely to die of any cause
• 40 percent less likely to die of coronary heart disease, and
• 48 percent less likely to die of an arrhythmia
One drawback is that since it was not a randomized trial, the findings cannot prove causation, meaning there’s no way of telling whether higher omega-3 blood levels were solely responsible for the health effects. That said, there’s ample evidence that omega-3 is critical for optimal health, particularly cardiovascular health, so this research provides additional support for the value of optimizing your omega-3 intake.
In the following video, I interview Randy Hartnell, founder-president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics, about the differences between wild and farmed salmon. Hartnell spent more than 20 years as a commercial fisherman before forming his company in 2001, which features sustainably harvested wild salmon that are particularly low in heavy metals.
I’m a huge fan of their sockeye salmon, and Vital Choice salmon is about the only type of fish I eat, for reasons I’ll discuss below.
Beware, as Media Tries to Mislead You About Healthful Fish Choices
According to lead author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, the reason we need omega-3 is because 95 percent of your cells’ membranes are made of fat. Without fats such as omega-3, your cells cannot function properly. He recommends eating one or two servings of fatty fish per week to optimize your blood levels of omega-3. Interestingly enough, the New York Times3 gets quite specific about the types of fish recommended:
“…3.5 ounces of farmed salmon, 5 ounces of anchovies or herring, or 15 to 18 ounces of cod or catfish.”
I think not… That is one of your WORST options, for a number of reasons that I will detail below. Cod and catfish also primarily come from aquatic fish farms these days. Unfortunately, fish farming has become big business, and a protected one at that. To learn more about this sad state of affairs, please see my recent article on the film Salmon Confidential, which details how salmon farms threaten the entire ecosystem in Canada’s British Columbia, and how the Canadian government is covering it up to protect the farming industry.