By Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN
Director of Nutrition Education and Research, AlaskOmega®
It’s 2020, let’s take the wins where we can
A report from the best dataset on health and nutrition in the USA (NHANES*) just published on intake of EPA and DHA omega-3 from diet and supplements over the past 10 years.
The dataset was analyzed according to age and gender, then by education, income, and ethnicity. It’s no surprise that people with more education (greater than high school) and higher income ate more fish and consumed more supplements and had an overall higher intake of EPA and DHA omega-3. A new finding was that omega-3 intake did not vary much by ethnicity. Asians consumed the most fish; Caucasians consumed the most supplements.
The loud and clear findings
Among young and old, among African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, and Hispanics, regardless of educational and income level, the consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 is appallingly low in the United States.
A state of deficiency
In the USA, the average intake of EPA and DHA omega-3 combined is 100 mg/day. According to the World Health Organization, 200-250 mg EPA and DHA per day is Adequate, which translated means, sufficient to prevent deficiency. Per the US National Institute of Health, 160 mg/day for men/110 mg/day for women of combined EPA and DHA is sufficient to prevent deficiency. With an average intake of 100 mg per day, we are at deficiency levels. Deficiency is a long way from healthy.
While minimum intake of EPA and DHA prevents deficiency, consuming more improves health and longevity. Let’s pause and remember that EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids. Essential isn’t optional, so underconsumption leads to deficiency. We are what we eat. We need omega-3s.
Here are just 3 reasons to listen to these findings
Benefits for mental health, including depression and anxiety
- Research shows that people who experience depression and anxiety tend to have lower levels of omega-3 in their bodies, compared to those who don’t.
- The American Psychiatric Association recommends that everyone consume EPA and DHA omega-3 daily, and those with mood, impulse-control, or psychotic disorders consume 1,000 mg EPA and DHA per day. More, up to 9 grams per day, is indicated for more serious conditions; work with your healthcare professional.
- Supplements that contain both EPA and DHA, but relatively more EPA are shown to be most effective for mental health.
Benefits for our heart, including healthy blood pressure
- EPA and DHA omega-3 documents have many documented heart health benefits. From significantly reducing risk of fatal heart attack to improving blood flow and heart rate, consuming at least 500 mg EPA and DHA per day is globally recommended while 2,000 mg EPA and DHA (or more) per day is best.
Benefits for pregnant women and children
- DHA omega-3 is an essential nutrient in pregnancy. This is because infants require DHA for normal development of their brain, eyes, and nervous system and mom is the only source. The infant will deplete mom if her intake is low. A minimum intake of 200-300 mg DHA per day is recommended, with 900 mg DHA per day considered sufficient to meet the needs of both mother and child.
An opportunity for sufficiency
As a nation, we severely under consume EPA and DHA omega-3. What’s the solution? Eating fish and taking fish oil supplements. Following the recommendation to consume two or more servings of fish and seafood a week is a good step. So is taking fish oil supplements. Consuming fresh, sustainably-sourced fish oil in capsules or liquid is a simple, affordable, and reliable way to ensure all of us get the EPA and DHA omega-3 we need. Let’s overcome deficiency starting today!
Everyone will benefit from this win. Let’s take the wins where we can.
*What is NHANES? NHANES stands for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It’s a national program that began in the 1960s to assess health and nutrition status of adults and children in the US. It uses both individual interviews and physical assessments. NHANES data are used to determine risk for disease across the US, to develop disease prevention programs, to set public policy, to direct and fund nutrition research, and more.
Disclaimer: This information is offered for educational purposes only. It is the opinion and scientific interpretation of the author. It is not intended as medical advice of any kind. The educational information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate, or cure any disease nor has this been reviewed or approved by the FDA.
Scientific References are available upon request.