The benefits of omega-3 oils from fish were first noticed in Inuit populations of Greenland. Researchers noticed that these people consumed high amounts of fat, yet did not develop heart disease or experience heart attacks like people in the Western world. Thus began studies of the Inuit diet in which beneficial omega-3 fatty acids from fish—EPA and DHA—were found to be the heart-protective components.
Many thousands of studies later, the benefits of omega-3 fish oil are still being found in many different areas of health. In a new study of Yup’ik Eskimos in Alaska, researchers evaluated the effects of a high-fat fish-based diet on disease markers in obese Eskimos. The rate of obesity in these people is similar to that in the lower US—the difference is the source of dietary fat. In the US, saturated and trans fats are high in the diet, and healthy polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3s, are low.
In obese Yup’ik Eskimos with the highest blood levels of EPA and DHA, blood triglyceride and C-reactive protein (a measure of overall inflammation) were the same as normal weight people. In those Eskimos with the lowest EPA and DHA levels, however, blood triglyceride and CRP levels were high. High triglycerides and CRP levels are risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease and possibly diabetes.
Results of this study suggest that omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish may have health protecting effects even in obese people. More studies are needed to confirm these results, but this study is promising.
Now, don’t get carried away and think you can eat all the fatty foods you want and just pop a fish oil supplement. Instead choose healthy fats as part of your diet with plenty of fish on the menu, and supplement that with omega-3s from fish oil to be sure you’re getting enough of these great fats. Just be sure to look for a fish oil that meets International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS—look for the IFOS seal on the bottle).