Safety and Benefits of Fish Oil

Fish Oil and DHA, EPA

WATERLOO, CANADA. There is ample evidence that an adequate intake of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the main components of fish oil supplements, helps protect against cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis, and macular degeneration. Both DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids. It is generally accepted that a minimum daily intake of about 500 mg of EPA and DHA is required to achieve meaningful benefits. A recent study involving Canadian children between the ages of 4 and 8 years found that 78% of them did not meet the recommended intake for children[1]. Now researchers from the University of Waterloo report that residents of retirement homes are also likely to be deficient in EPA and DHA. Could this be remedied through fish oil supplements?

Fish Oil Supplements and the Elderly

This study involved 15 residents (7 male and 8 female) aged between 79 and 98 years. The EPA and DHA content of their meals, snacks, and supplements was determined by actual measurement in duplicate food and supplement samples. Their blood level of fatty acids was determined from fingertip prick blood samples. The average (mean) daily intake of EPA and DHA was only 121 mg (median of 53 mg/day). Also of interest was that the average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was 6.8 to 1. Analysis of blood samples showed that EPA concentration amounted to only 0.7% of total fatty acids, while DHA concentration was 1.8% of total fatty acids, both well below desirable levels. Interestingly enough, only one study participant consumed more than 400 mg/day of DHA and EPA, and this person was taking a fish oil supplement.

The researchers concluded that this particular group of retirement home residents did not receive anywhere near the daily recommended amount of EPA and DHA through their habitual (government mandated) diet. They suggest that fish oil supplements should be considered for residents of long-term care facilities since it would likely be impractical and cost-prohibitive to provide the required amount through the regular serving of fish. It is also of interest, and considerable concern, that the average intake of vitamin D (mean 190 IU/day), vitamin E (mean 7.5 IU/day), and magnesium (mean 270 mg/day) were all below recommended dietary allowances (600 IU/day, 15 IU/day, and 400 mg/day respectively).
[1] Madden, SM, et al. Direct diet quantification indicates low intakes of n-3 fatty acids in children 4 to 8 years old. Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 139, March 2009, pp. 528-32
Fratesi, JA, et al. Direct quantitation of omega-3 fatty acid intake of Canadian residents of a long-term care facility. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, Vol. 34, 2009, pp. 1-9

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