Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: They are necessary for human health but the body can’t make them — you have to get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. They have also become popular because they may reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week.
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.
The omega-3 levels in farmed salmon seem to have entered a free fall. Today's farmed fillet may contain as little as half of the omega-3s as it did less than a decade ago, according to the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organization (IFFO).
More than half of the fish Americans eat comes from fish farms, which has increased by more than 400 percent in the last 10 years.
Why Are Omega-3 Levels Dropping in Farmed Fish?
The drop in farmed salmon's omega-3 levels has resulted from changes in what the fish are fed. In order to keep their omega-3 levels up, farmed fish have traditionally been fed large quantities of small oily wild fish, such as anchovies, herring, and sardines.
These have now become so overfished that their numbers have dropped precipitously, forcing salmon farmers to resort to other sources of feed that are low in omega-3 fats and high in omega-6s.
Farmed Salmon Has …
Fish and fish oil may protect against prostate cancer, but some suggest that ALA may be associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in men. More research in this area is needed.
Some fish may contain potentially harmful contaminants, such as heavy metals (including mercury), dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). For sport caught fish, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that pregnant or nursing women eat no more than a single 6 ounce meal per week, and young children less than 2 ounces per week. For farm raised, imported, or marine fish, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that pregnant or nursing women and young children avoid eating types with higher levels of mercury (such as mackerel, shark, swordfish, or tilefish), and eat up to 12 ounces per week of other fish types.
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