Health Benefits Of Eating Fish

By Dr Harold Gunatillake FRCS- Health Writer

It is generally known that individuals who eat fish regularly or at least twice a week reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and mental decline as. Eating fish may also ward off many chronic degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis. It has been shown that the main benefit of eating fish is lessening cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

A Harvard study found that the risk of death from coronary heart disease was 36% lower in people who eat regularly fatty fish. This observation will disappoint our people in Sri Lanka because it is beyond the average man's income to eat fish regularly since the prices of fish are exorbitant. The people living along the coastal regions benefit much more from eating fish because they can buy fish cheaper than other people in the country. Fishermen seem to live longer healthily may be due to eating fish daily.

Tuna, salmon, or trout seems to have higher concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids than tilapia. No wonder tilapia is a cheaper fish than the aforementioned. Farmed tilapia is supposed to have higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids, possibly because they are fed with omega 6 type of foods like corn, which contains omega 6 fatty acids. In Sri Lanka this is not a problem as the tilapia fish is mostly caught from the sea.

Omega-6 is required by the body, but most of the foods consumed in Sri Lanka have more omega 6 type fatty acids such as vegetable oils taken for cooking. Too much of omega-6 may lead to unhealthy situations such as heart disease and lowering immune system.

No doubt the health benefits of eating fish are due to the high concentration of omega -3 fatty acids in the fish. There is more vitamin A and D in their liver. Other seafood like oysters, lobsters, crabs too have a moderate amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Though seafood contains high concentrations of cholesterol, it has no influence on the serum cholesterol levels. Forget cholesterol and eat plenty of seafood.

Omega-3 forms an essential fatty acid for our body because it cannot be formed within the body. The essential components of omega-3 fatty acids beneficial to the body are EPA and DHA which are particularly heart healthy and have cooling effects, sometime referred to as 'anti-inflammatory' effects. Inflammation seems turning out to be at the base of many health problems including heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancers and arthritis. Omega-3 also helps prevent the blood clots which cause many strokes.

Recent studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have potential to help slow cognitive problems such as Alzheimer's disease and age related cognitive decline. It helps to control depression and suicidal tendencies.

It is better for health to get the quota of omega-3 through eating fish rather than from the fish capsules. If you cannot get enough omega-3 through diet especially for heart disease patients, you may consider taking fish oil supplements.

The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish per week.. Another benefit of eating fish and other seafood like crabs, oysters, prawns, shellfish and others are low in fat and calories. The distribution of fats in fish is healthier as with proteins. Shellfish tend to have high proportions of polyunsaturated fat and lower proportion of saturated fat than beef or chicken.

Fish also have a good source of proteins. Shellfish, not actually fish, but another group of water-dwelling animals including prawns (crustaceans) and molluscs scallops, lobsters are also a very rich source of protein

Salmon nutrition
Salmon being a most expensive fish is not available in fish markets other than special supermarkets. Salmon is a highly nutritious food, high in protein, and 'good fat'. A 4 oz. of salmon provides a full day's requirement of vitamin D. It is one of the few foods that can make the claim… That same piece of fish contains over half of the necessary B12, niacin, and selenium, and is an excellent source of B6 and magnesium. Canned salmon also contains large amounts of calcium (due to the bones of the fish).

Mercury contamination
The American Medical Association says the health benefits of eating fish greatly outweigh the potential risks of mercury exposure or potential contamination by dioxins. PCB's or other contaminants levels of chemicals in fish such as dioxins and PCBs are very low, comparable to the levels found in meat and dairy products. The AMA says their potential presence "should not influence individual decisions about fish intake."

The AMA seems to think that it is unclear that mercury exposure from typical levels of fish intake has any adverse health effects for men and women who are not of child bearing age. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid fish that are high in mercury, particularly shark, swordfish and king mackerel. They can eat tuna instead, but they should limit it to 6 ounces per week.
Mercury in Fish and Heart disease

It is observed that higher levels of mercury concentration did not have a higher risk of cardiovascular events. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, suggest adults increase their relatively low intake of seafood, noting that about eight ounces a week has been linked in some research with reductions in cardiac deaths in healthy people.

Excessive levels of mercury in blood can cause side effects, such as numbness of the fingers, toes and muscle weakness. But these side effects aren't typical with moderate consumption.
Some seafood such as salmon, sardines, scallops and shrimps have low mercury levels and they are safe to eat.

Parasites and bacteria in fish
Fish especially the big ones carry parasites in their gut and if fish is eaten raw or preserved, such as sashimi or ceviche, parasites become a concern. The most common ones are nematodes (cod worms) and tapeworms. Nematodes can harm humans and cause limited digestive problems for a week or so. Tapeworms can live in the human gut for years growing up to a couple of yards long, causing severe pain, weight loss and anemia. Fortunately, these parasites are killed when fish is properly cooked to an internal temperature of at least 140 def. It is advisable to avoid eating raw fish unless they are well frozen.

Refrigerated smoked uncooked seafood should be avoided due to increased risk of a bacterial infection called listeriosis, especially by pregnant women, and older people. Smoked fish in a cooked recipe is always OK- as is canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood.

Seafood also can be a source of food poisoning, especially when eaten raw. Poorly cooked seafood can also cause food poisoning due to marine toxins. The most common are scombroid or histamine fish poisoning from bacteria in spoiled finfish such as tuna or mackerel, or ciguatera poisoning from toxins ingested by reef fish such as grouper, snapper and sea bass.

Fried fish
Fish should be broiled, cooked as a curry or baked and not fried. Harvard researchers found in a study of more than 4,700 older people that eating fried fish or fish sandwiches was associated with a higher risk of stroke.

Conversely, the study also found a direct relationship between consumption of broiled or baked fish and a reduced incidence of stroke, according to a report in the Jan. 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The link between increased risk and fish sandwiches probably was due to the fact that those sandwiches tended to be fried-fish burgers from fast-food outlets, said Dr. Dariush

Studies have revealed that the people live in the 'stroke belt' in the US which extends from the Carolinas to Arkansas and Louisiana, the stroke rates are among the highest in the country. They are less likely to eat the recommended two servings of fish per week, and when they eat fish seems to be eating fried fish.

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