Omega-3 Oils for Life
Omega-3 Oils for Life

esearchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital have just reported that mice bred with a flatworm gene have produced a kind of “aquatic” rodent.1 The mice are producing significant amounts of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, the same oils that are normally found in salmon and other coldwater (fatty) fish. As we know, these fish oils are staples of heart-healthy diets, but we haven’t yet developed a taste for mice—not even transgenic ones.

The real goal of this work is to produce livestock that contain healthier oils. Why? So that we can have our steak and eat it too—in good health. Rather than being larded up with saturated fats, these livestock will contain unsaturated fats derived from far healthier “fish” oils. Imagine not feeling guilty about roast chicken or steak, because they’re good for you! But this is still off in the future. (For plausible future-oriented and other pro-biotech articles, see the NeoFiles)

The story of evolution may very well have pivoted on the availability of omega-3 oils when higher life forms migrated to the coastal regions of East Africa. A recent review has concluded that omega-3 oils were probably a rate-limiting factor in the evolution of the mammalian brain, the primate brain, and, ultimately, the human brain.2 In many ways, we are what our prehistoric ancestors ate.

Now, to the present. There can be little doubt that omega-3 oils, such as are found in salmon (see the article on page 29) and other fatty fish, are among the most healthful foods we can eat, helping to prevent heart disease and other degenerative diseases associated with aging—including cognitive impairment. But farmed salmon—the most widely available source of salmon—have been found to be significantly contaminated with at least 14 toxic organochlorine compounds. Wild salmon are much less contaminated, but the wild Atlantic salmon is nearly extinct, and the wild Pacific salmon is limited in distribution.

The solution? Nutritional supplements. Not only can they be toxin-free, but they are simply far less expensive. Thus it is now possible to benefit from the kinds of heart protection and brain enhancement that would cost much more if you had to obtain them from fish such as salmon (assuming you could assure yourself of a steady, uncontaminated supply).

  1. Kang JX, Wang J, Wu L, Kang ZB. Transgenic mice: fat-1 mice convert n-6 to n-3 fatty acids. Nature 2004 Feb 5;427(6974):504.
  2. Crawford MA, Bloom M, Cunnane S, Holmsen H, Ghebremeskel K, Parkington J, Schmidt W, Sinclair AJ, Broadhurst CL. Docosahexaenoic acid and cerebral evolution. Review. World Rev Nutr Diet 2001;88:6-17.

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