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12th September 2014

Yet More Reasons to Ensure Oily Fish is on the Menu

??????Long chain omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in oily fish – like mackerel, pilchards, salmon, sardines, trout – but can also be obtained through supplements. Two studies published this week suggest further support for including oily fish in the diet.

Fish oil and seizure frequency in epilepsy

A small study reported that consumption of low doses of omega-3 fish oil could help reduce risk of seizures in people with epilepsy. Epilepsy affects more than 500,000 people in the UK, with the condition usually occurring in childhood, although it can affect a person at any age, and can be caused by conditions that affect the brain such as stroke, brain tumours and head injury.

In this study, 24 drug–resistant people with epilepsy were given 3 treatments, low, high and no fish oil (placebo) for 10 weeks, with a 6-week separation period. The researchers report that low dose fish oil supplements reduced the frequency of seizures by around 30percent, but high doses were no better than placebo treatment. Interestingly recent data show individuals with epilepsy also have a higher risk having a heart attack, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with better heart health.

The study is limited by its small size and short duration. There was no association between omega-3 fish oil and the severity of seizures. Much larger studies would be needed in order to confirm or refute these findings before any firm conclusions can be drawn and recommendations made.

Fish and risk of hearing loss in women

Another US study looked at the association between intake of fish and long chain omega-3 fatty acids and self-reported hearing loss in 65 000 women followed from 1991 to 2009. Hearing loss is a highly prevalent and often disabling chronic health condition associated with ageing. There are more than 10 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss (one in six of the population) and around 6.4 million are over 65 years. The researchers found that consumption of any fish and higher intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids were inversely associated with risk of hearing loss.

More fish on your dish

Dietary recommendations suggest that fish should be offered at least twice a week, one of which should be oily (a typical portion is about 140g.), yet average UK consumption of oily fish is currently well below the recommended in all age groups. We should ensure that in whatever health and social care role we are in, we encourage this consumption. Although neither of the above studies are conclusive, we should be eating more fish in the UK so make sure it’s on the menu.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Science Manager, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all.

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