Omega-3 and the Inuit


The Inuit are the aboriginal inhabitants of the North American Arctic. Until recently, they were called Eskimo, but they consider this name derogatory because it was given by non-Inuit people and means “eater of raw meat”; they prefer their own term, Inuit, that means simply “people”.

The traditional diet of the Inuit (rich in omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources) is an example of how high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can counterbalance the detrimental effects of a diet rich in saturated fat. The initial interest on fish oil and omega-3 began from studies of Inuit, because they showed a low incidence of cardiovascular disease (particularly, a low incidence of myocardial infarction). Fatty acids are in the fat in our diet, and they can be saturated and unsaturated (including mono and polyunsaturated). While saturated fats are considered bad because they raise levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and lower the good cholesterol, diets rich in unsaturated fats are linked to lower heart disease (especially those rich in polyunsaturated fats).

But currently, in the Inuit diet, the cardiovascular beneficial effect of EPA and DHA has diminished and it is thought that this may be due to the adverse effect of methyl mercury. Increasing consumption of fish species rich in EPA+DHA but with low levels of methyl mercury (like salmon, herring and Arctic char, since mercury is preferentially accumulated in big fish meat) may help them to address this situation.

In our case, it should be taken on account the same preventive measure and, also, to remember that the intake of high quality supplements of fish oil (with a very high amount of omega-3 with respect to the total contents of the oil in the supplement and greater purity) may be a safe complement in our diet.



Hu XF, Laird BD, Chan HM. Mercury diminishes the cardiovascular protective effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the modern diet of Inuit in Canada. Environ Res. 2016 Jun 10. pii: S0013-9351(16)30227-4. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.06.001. [Epub ahead of print]



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