Early Research on Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The interest in omega-3 fatty acids began when physicians working in the Arctic observed that Greenland Eskimos rarely developed coronary heart disease and various inflammatory disorders compared to the Danes living in Greenland. The Eskimos’ diet was high in seal blubber, derived from cold water fish and the Danes’ diet was also high in fat but derived from land animals. Scientists Dyerberg and Bang concluded that the differences in the composition of the fat in marine fish and mammals and that of land animals were responsible for the health differences between the Eskimos and the Danes.

Mullet, red drum and spotted seatrout – popular fare on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Mullet, red drum and spotted seatrout –
popular fare on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

The fats in marine fish were rich in very long chain and highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids whereas the fats in land animals contained no long chain omega-3 fatty acids. Since that first population study, the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively investigated, and it appears that marine fish oil lowers triglycerides, boosts HDL cholesterol, provides other cardiovascular benefits, fights inflammation, and reduces blood clot formation.
Interest in the effects of omega-3 fish oil on cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases and human health is now widespread. Newspapers, magazines, and medical journals are filled with reports about the health benefits of omega-3 fish oil. Media reports of the role of omega-3 fatty acids in helping in the recovery of the lone survivor of the Sago Mine disaster in January 2006 heightened the attention of the public.
Since the study of the Eskimo diet, the attention has focused on cold water fish such as salmon for essential omega-3 fats that are critical for good health. We have analyzed more than 45 species of Gulf of Mexico fishes, and the results indicate that all warmwater Gulf fish also contain these healthful omega-3 fats. The fish examined in the study were caught in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters during all seasons and represented all age groups, sizes and sexual maturations.

Summary of Omega-3 Fats in Gulf of Mexico Fish

[pdf file]

Our study further showed that the amount of omega-3s in marine fish depends primarily on their fat content. Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and young tunas, whether from cold or warm waters, are rich in omega-3; but they are also higher in total fat compared to leaner fish such as flounder, redfish, snapper or tilefish. For residents of Mississippi and other states with access to warm water fish caught from the Gulf of Mexico, this information means that they can eat home-caught fish to get the needed omega-3 fatty acids. Gulf fish are also an excellent source of protein and other nutrients.

Our study included many fish species that are not typically used for human consumption. All fish are good to eat if handled properly after they are caught.