New Evidence that Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish, Canned Tuna Halt Mental Decline Later in Life
Research Confirms Role in Brain Development During Pregnancy
Washington, D.C.; April 7, 2004 -- Citing new evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood improve brain function
in middle aged people and actually lower the risk of mental impairment as people age, the U.S. Tuna Foundation (USTF) today
reminded the public that canned tuna is not only good for your heart but is a tasty and affordable "brain food" for people
of all ages.
The latest research comes from researchers with Utrecht and Maastricht Universities in the Netherlands and was recently published
in the journal Neurology. Tracking more than 1600 Dutch men and women aged 45 to 70 over a six-year period, the researchers
found those who ate fish regularly scored higher on a battery of tests for memory, psychomotor speed, cognitive flexibility,
and overall cognition. Moreover, the study concluded that the specific factors contributing to better brain function were
fatty fish and the consumption of two essential omega-3 fatty acids found in canned tuna, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Of the top 10 most commonly consumed fish in this country, salmon and canned albacore tuna have the highest levels of the
omega-3 fatty acid DHA, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutritional Database.
"This study offers encouragement to all Americans who consume fatty fish and especially those who worry about Alzheimer's
disease," said Joyce Nettleton, D.Sc., R.D., author of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health and a member of the Tuna Nutrition Council,
which advises USTF on nutrition and public health matters. "We know that people with mild cognitive impairment are likely
to progress to dementia or Alzheimer's disease, so learning that a simple step like adding canned tuna and other types of
fish to the diet is important news, especially as the number of older Americans increases dramatically."
Along with improving brain function in older people, USTF pointed to extensive research concluding that the omega-3 fatty
acids in canned tuna and other types of seafood are essential for the developing brain during pregnancy and the first two
years of a baby's life. According to numerous studies, DHA comprises approximately 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fatty
acid content in the cell membranes in the brain and is transferred from mother to the fetus at a high rate during the last
trimester of pregnancy. Along with DHA, the developing fetus uses EPA for the growth of the brain and the developing nervous
"It is important for pregnant and nursing women to understand that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are essential during
pregnancy and lactation," Dr. Nettleton said.
"Women need to know that eating canned tuna and many other types of fish during pregnancy provides the omega-3 fatty acids
that are necessary for the brain of the fetus to develop and thrive."
It is because of these important benefits that health leaders around the world are urging pregnant and nursing women to include
fish, such as canned tuna, in their diets while heeding some specific advice about how to minimize the small risk to the unborn
child from mercury in certain fish. Most recently, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom (UK) revised its
advice about the amount of canned tuna that pregnant and nursing women can safely eat, doubling the maximum amount to four
cans or two tuna steaks a week.
Issued on March 24, the updated advice from the UK food safety agency is based on new guidelines from the World Health Organization
(WHO) regarding the levels of mercury in fish. Citing the health benefits of fish consumption for pregnant women and their
developing fetuses, this UK advisory sets maximum recommended consumption levels at nearly twice the amount recommended in
the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their recent
Tuna Can Help You Lose Weight
Eating tuna, salmon, or other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids once a day as part of a weight-loss plan can
help you lose weight and improve your overall health, Australian researchers report.
Research suggests that omega-3's protect against heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol
levels. Cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, cod and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Participants in the study lost weight, lowered their cholesterol levels and reduced their risk factors for
Fish oil supplements provide another option. However, daily fish consumption offers greater benefits because
as fish consumption increases, meat consumption likely decreases, resulting in a decrease in total dietary fat intake.