Omega-3 Fatty Acids Associated with Improved Markers of Heart Disease

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Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in seafood are associated with lower risk of heart disease, improved immune function, health advantages in preterm infants and possibly lower risk of suicide, according to new research.

These findings and more are summarized in the December 2011 PUFA Newsletter and Fats of Life newsletters for health professionals and consumers, respectively.

One study reported that healthy adults with the highest consumption of fish had higher scores for two indicators of heart health—blood vessel cell function and less inflammation—compared with those who did not eat fish. Such observations suggest that eating fish regularly may help prevent heart disease.

Other research confirms the positive effects of the omega-3 DHA on cognitive and brain cell function in animals with traumatic brain injury. Further, very low DHA levels in active-duty US military personnel were associated with a 62 percent higher risk of suicide.

"In the brain study, findings suggest that dietary DHA counteracted many of the harmful effects of brain injury on learning, neuronal cell signaling, membrane integrity, synaptic function and oxidative stress," said Editor Joyce Nettleton, D.Sc. "The other study documented that low DHA status in military staff may contribute to diminished mental health and a higher risk of suicide."

Other research found positive connections between DHA levels in preterm infants and improved retinal (eye) health as well as reduced risk of lung disease and hay fever. One study monitored preterm infants given fish or soybean oil after birth for the development of retinal disease. Fewer of those fed fish oil needed laser treatment to correct their retinal disorder compared with those given soybean oil, which does not contain DHA. Another study reported that male preterm infants fed higher DHA than in standard formula were less likely to develop lung disease and hay fever compared with infants receiving the standard amount.

"These observations suggest that treatment of preterm infants with higher levels of DHA immediately after delivery may have beneficial effects on lung function and respiration, particularly in males," Nettleton noted. "The study supports the provision of DHA and other seafood omega-3s to preterm infants."