Proposing an Omega-3 Index

In a review published in Cardiovascular Research, Clemens von Schacky (Universität München, Munich Germany) and William S. Harris (University of South Dakota) proposed the creation of an omega-3 index as a way of guiding consumers to satisfy optimal omega-3 requirements.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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Their proposition is based on a body of scientific evidence suggesting that persons with about 8 percent omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes have 90 percent less risk for sudden cardiac death as compared to persons with about 3.3 percent. But the benefits of omega-3 are not limited to cardiovascular disease and its well-established role as an anti-inflammatory agent.

While essential fatty acid deficiency was first noted more than 75 years ago, the more subtle effects of omega-3s, such as contributions to the functional maturation of the retina and visual cortex, are a recent discovery. In a paper titled "Nutrition, Brain Development and Aging: Role of Essential Fatty Acids," published in the May 2006 issue of Nutrition Reviews, Richard Uauy and Alan Dangour review many critical aspects of essential fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain development during both the fetal and postnatal period and may limit the cognitive decline that accompanies aging, when brain levels of DHA tend to decrease. Fish consumption is associated with decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and the reported daily use of fish-oil supplements has been linked to higher cognitive function scores. But, unlike most dietary essentials, there are limited sources of DHA -- other than fish.

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