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Omega-3 for heart health

A recent study with Alaskan Eskimos has shown that high intakes of Omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of obesity related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
The study involved the most famous indigenous people of the US state who have a similar obesity rate to the other states but the incidence of type 2 diabetes is only 3.3% compared to 7.7% nationally.

The researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre and the University of Alaska Fairbanks the reduced risk of diabetes is linked to the fact that Eskimo’s in Alaska consume 20 times more fish than people in other states.

“While genetic, lifestyle and dietary factors may account for this difference,” said lead author Zeina Makhoul, PhD., “it is reasonable to ask, based on our findings, whether the lower prevalence of diabetes in this population might be attributed, at least in part, to their high consumption of omega-3-rich fish.”

Furthermore, in Eskimos with low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, most notably EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), obesity was found to strongly increase blood triglycerides and C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation. Elevated levels of triglycerides and CRP increase the risk of heart disease and, possibly, diabetes.

“Interestingly, we found that obese persons with high blood levels of omega-3 fats had triglyceride and CRP concentrations that did not differ from those of normal-weight persons,” added Makhoul. “It appeared that high intakes of omega-3-rich seafood protected Yup’ik Eskios from some of the harmful effects of obesity.”

This study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, echoes the findings of earlier studies undertaken by Danish scientists into how Greenland Eskimos could have such a high fat diet and yet such a low death rate from Cardiovascular diseases.

For the new study the researchers recruited 330 Yup’ik with an average age of 45. Seventy percent of the participants were overweight or obese at the start of the study.
Analysis of blood samples showed that, while CRP and triglyceride levels were observed in obese Eskimos with low omega-3 blood levels, such increased levels were not observed in people with high blood levels of EPA and DHA.

“Our findings may have important clinical relevance for the prevention of some obesity-related diseases. Obesity prevalence in the US and worldwide has been increasing over the past decades, with subsequent increases in rates of diabetes and other obesity-associated diseases,” wrote the researchers.

“It is likely that these associations are partly mediated by the positive associations of obesity with triglycerides and CRP, two biomarkers that strongly and independently predict risks of CVD and possibly diabetes.

“Chronic, high EPA and DHA intakes, similar to those of Yup’ik Eskimos, could at least partly ameliorate the obesity-associated disease risks,” they added.

Last updated: 30-03-2011