Fishing with the Greenland Eskimos – Dr. Mario Howell

The Greenland Eskimos gained attention back in the late 1970’s after research revealed low incidence of coronary heart disease among their population. Coronary heart disease refers to the failure of coronary arteries to supply adequate blood to the heart and surrounding tissue due to atherosclerosis. Coronary heart disease, a type of cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s doctors began recommending a diet low in saturated animal fat to prevent CHD. Ironically, and what baffled scientist, was that the Greenland Eskimo’s diet was high in saturated animal fat and yet these people had a lower incidence of CHD than the US population.

Further research determined that the Greenland Eskimo’s fish diet contained an abundance of omega 3 fatty acids such as docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenioc acid (EPA). Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of unsaturated fatty acids that are essential, and must be supplied through our diet. Recent studies have now demonstrated that the consumption of omega 3 fatty acids can decrease the incidence of coronary heart disease.

One of the biochemical actions of omega-3 fatty acids is believed to be their reduction of inflammatory molecules which can damage blood vessels. Damage of the inside lining of blood vessels, due to inflammation, is a contributor to atherosclerosis or the development of plaque within the arteries. Evidence from large animal studies indicates that EPA and DHA in fish oils inhibit inflammation and the development of atherosclerosis.

It’s been more than thirty years since preliminary studies of the Greenland Eskimo’s fish oil diet, and now we have the FDA joining the party as a proponent of omega-3 fatty acids. On September 8th 2004 an official endorsement was given by the Food and Drug Administration. They gave a “qualified health claim” status to omega-3 fatty acids, claiming that “supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary disease”.

Can we afford to wait another 30 years for the FDA to endorse other recent studies showing that EPA and DHA may be beneficial in fighting diseases and conditions such as: rheumatoid arthritis, pain associated with menstrual cramps, the risk of premature delivery in pregnancy, low birth weights, bipolar disorder, mild to moderate depression, Raynaud disease, lupus, IgA nephropathy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney stones, cystic fibrosis, psoriasis and ulcerative colitis?

So…how do I get my fish oils? A good source is from marine life such as herring, cod liver, wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Since the concentrations of EPA and DHA in fish vary depending on its environment, fish oil supplements can offer a viable and reliable source of omega-3 fatty acids standardized around the content of EPA and DHA. Supplement manufacturers should provide sufficient information on labels about the source of the fish oil and species to enable consumers to make informed decisions.

For more information on fish oil supplements please contact Dr. Howell @ 480-474-4441