Natural Foods Merchandiser

New Research Supports Omega-3's Benefits

Not happy with recommending supplements that don't always measure up? Then look to the beginning and end, the alpha and the omega of supps—omega-3s. Research keeps piling up to support omega-3 use for a whole host of purposes, from brain food to arrhythmia prevention. In fact, Andrew Weil, M.D., the alternative medicine promoter and guru, recommends omega-3s for no fewer than 20 conditions on his Web site.

Writing in the journals Pharmacology & Therapeutics and Circulation in June, lead researcher Alexander Leaf, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, notes that scientists now know how omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids prevent sudden cardiac death. PUFAs work by stabilizing sodium and calcium currents in the heart, thereby blocking excessive electrical discharges that cause arrhythmia—erratic and dangerous changes in heart rhythm.

Since 2000, the American Heart Association's dietary guidelines have recommended that healthy adults eat at least two servings of fish per week to reduce cardiovascular disease. However, they also remind consumers that children and pregnant women are at risk for exposure to excessive mercury found in certain fish.

In May, research presented at the annual American Psychiatric Association meeting suggests that omega-3s lower the chances of depression both during pregnancy and postpartum. The study, which tracked 14,541 women from their eighth week of pregnancy until their babies were 8 months old, found that women who ate no seafood had almost double the rate of depression as those who ate 10 ounces to 12 ounces per week. Also, depression rates dropped along with higher consumption of omega-3s. In a 2002 study, Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., lead researcher for the newest APA report, found that women who had higher concentrations of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, a main component of fish omega-3s, in their breast milk or who consumed larger amounts of seafood were less likely to be depressed. That study was not able to control for other depression-causing factors, which makes the new APA-reported, data-controlled study significant.

Science is providing the message and the people are hearing it. The BBC News Online recently reported that sales of fish, as well as vegetables and other so-called brain foods, had risen more than one-third in the weeks coinciding with university and secondary school exams. Fish—which also contains DMAE, another possible brain booster—showed the largest sales increases in university towns such as Cambridge, Oxford, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Durham.

The U.S. government is helping to get the word out. The President's Office of Management and Budget recently sent a letter to the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services urging them to include new research on omega-3s in revisions to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Food Guide Pyramid.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 7/p. 7

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