Integrating Fish into Your Diet

Youve probably heard a lot of buzz within the last 10-15 years regarding the benefits of fish and fish oil. But really, what does the research say?

Have you known someone close to you who has suffered memory decline with age? Memory decline, also known as dementia, affects most aging adults, particularly those blessed to live into their 70s and 80s+. Im working on a larger research project that looks at fish/fish oil and chronic disease, especially memory decline, and I thought it would be interesting to share some of my findings so far.

Keep reading though, because eating fish isnt just for those at risk for chronic disease, its benefits are also necessary to boost overall health!

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which affects the quality of life in many aging adults. Alzheimer’s prevalence is increasing: by 2040 there will be at least 81 million affected people if new prevention strategies are not implemented. Alzheimer’s affects one in 45 Americans, and this rate is expected to quadruple. There is currently no curative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimers Association Report). Recent research has looked at the relationship between eating fish and taking fish oil and cognitive decline, heart disease, and diabetes. All this to say
Eating fish and chronic disease are definitely related.

Omega-3 fatty acids (N-3s) are present in plant form (ALA), but are best utilized by the body in DHA/EPA form, which is most concentrated in marine sources like fish. So, eating fish and taking fish oil is better than ground flax or chia seeds, if youre trying to up your n-3 intake (Barberger-Gateau).

First, a little background on the science between this relationship.Fatty fish are a naturally occurring source of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that can postpone or reduce chronic disease. {feel free to skip if youd like}

First, omega-3 fatty acids (n-3s), including EPA + DHA, are gaining the interest of researchers based on their health benefits and protective nature (Erdman JW). At this time, researchers have discovered a correlation between dietary intake of n-3 FAs and protection from various chronic diseases. EPA and DHA may also exhibit positive effects on chronic inflammation and related disease including Crohn’s disease, asthma, arthritis, and psoriasis. These protective effects are often related to eicosanoid formation, and the key role of n-3 FAs within the phospholipid layer of the cell wall. This is a beneficial effect as overproduction of arachidonic acid, resulting form poor intake of n-3’s, may results in inflammatory and immune-related disorders (Erdman JW). N-3 FAs also have portrayed an ability to lower eicosanoid and cytokine production, which cause inflammation. As inflammation may play an overarching role in chronic disease, the potential benefits of diet fat composition and food, choices in general, are suggested to be crucial.

DHA, when not used for eicosanoid formation, is used by the body for required brain function and development (Bourre JM). DHA is necessary to protect brain cells (Bourre JM). Thus, the cognitive related properties of n-3 consumption are also evident. The proposed mechanisms between fish-derived n-3 FAs and cognitive function include cell membrane protection, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular and plaque-preventing effects. Researchers are looking into if n-3 FA utilization is best when consumed with n-6 FAs and if a desirable n-3/n-6 FA ratio exists (devore). This is because too much n-6 fatty acids, as present in the western diet from processed oils, can slow down the formation of EPA and DHA. Perhaps eating less n-6 FAs and more n-3s would even out the ratio and boost overall health.

Fish that are nigh in n-3s include mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, trout, and menhaden (NIH). Of these, found salmon, trout, and tuna to be the highest n-3 FA fatty fish sources that are commonly consumed in North America (Weaver KL).

And is fish better than fish oil, or vise versa? For those who dont like eating fish, fish oil is also effective! Fish oil (like cod liver oil, salmon oil), is an easy way to obtain the benefits of eating fish in a capsule form. Recently, algae sourced DHA has been found to be nearly as effective as fish oil (Adarme-Vega). But make sure to choose fish oil over flax oil or other plant oils if you are taking them for n-3 benefits.

All this to say, since most people experience some sort of chronic disease during their life, finding strategies to slow the onset or stop the disease is of utmost importance. And if we can find noninvasive whole food-based approaches to combat chronic disease and to replace prescription drug use, then all the better! And reducing inflammation and protecting your brain are always good health reasons to eat fish on a more daily level.