What appears to be one of the most significant recent studies exploring the connection between seafood consumption and health was a 2021 study published in the science journal Nature. This study became one of Nature‘s most downloaded of that year.
It found a strong association between eating seafood and reduced risk of death.
Titled “Blood n-3 fatty acid levels and total and cause-specific mortality from 17 prospective studies” it found an association between higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in seafood (and to a lesser extent in animal-based foods such as beef), and reduced risk of death overall, as well as death from several major causes.
Generally speaking, scientific studies are regarded as superior if they are relatively large and long-lasting.
This one met both criteria.
It pooled data from 17 prospective studies. Then it analyzed the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of over 42,000 participants, followed over a median of 16 years.
Specifically, every one-standard deviation (a statistical term based on how much values in a data set vary, here’s an excellent explanation) increase in blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two types of omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in fish, was associated with a 13% and 7% lower risk of total mortality, respectively.
“Lower risk of death” can seem a confusing concept, since, face it, everyone dies. But what it means scientifically is that the odds of dying of a particular health condition such as heart disease drops by a certain percentage.
But what does it mean?
The findings of this study appear to be encouraging for those who love seafood. The researchers suggest that eating more foods rich in these two omega-3 fatty acids may help to lower the risk of several major causes of death.
But, as we all know, correlation does not equal causation! It’s vital to note that the study only found an association. It doesn’t and can’t prove causality. Other factors may matter here. It’s possible, for example, that seafood eaters also have other health-promoting habits and lifestyles that contribute to their enviable longevity.
Still, the study at least suggests that DHA and EPA may have important health benefits. That’s especially true when considering that previous studies have found these fatty acids may help to reduce inflammation, boost brain function, and drop the risk of several chronic diseases.
So what should I do?
Consider eating more seafood! If the association suggested here is indeed due to beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids that are abundant in seafood, adding more to your diet is likely an excellent idea.
Cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines, contain high amounts of DHA and EPA. Fish with a lower fat content, such as bass, tilapia and cod, as well as shellfish contain lower levels, but are still much better sources than nearly any other foods.
In doing so, you will also align with the American Heart Association’s recommendation to eat at least two servings of fatty fish per week to promote heart health.
There is, after all, little downside, as seafood is delicious. If you seek inspiration, check out our recipes page.