FDA Recognizes Health Benefits of Omega-3
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (October 14, 2004)—Adding
to what appears to be a growing trend of acknowledging nutritional
health benefits, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
recently announced that it will allow a qualified health claim
to appear on the packaging of foods containing the omega-3 fatty
acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),
nutrients that have been shown effective in reducing heart disease
risk and other conditions.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women
in the United States. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 people
die from heart disease and conditions related to heart disease each
year. By allowing this qualified health claim to appear on foods
with EPA and DHA, the FDA is hoping to encourage consumers to make
better food choices.
In a letter dated September 8, 2004, the FDA extended a previous
decision by permitting a qualified health claim to appear on packages
of foods containing EPA and DHA. The first qualified health claim
for EPA and DHA was granted in October, 2000, but only pertained
to supplements containing these fatty acids. The new claim states
that, although the research is not conclusive, there is evidence
to support a link between consuming EPA and DHA and a reduced heart
disease risk. It goes on to give the amount of omega-3 fatty acids
contained in each serving of the specific food. The FDA recommends
that the total EPA and DHA intake not exceed 3 grams per day, and
no more than 2 grams per day should be from a dietary supplement.
Higher amounts are frequently used in the treatment of conditions
such as rheumatoid arthritis. People considering using EPA and DHA
to treat specific inflammatory conditions should consult a nutritionally-oriented
health care provider.
EPA and DHA are long-chain, polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids
found in cold-water fish, such as tuna, cod, sardines, anchovies,
herring, mackerel, sablefish, bluefish, lake trout, and salmon. These
fatty acids make up about 30% of the fats from fish. Additionally,
some margarine spreads are now fortified with EPA and DHA, and eggs
from chickens given omega-3-rich feed are marketed for their omega-3
Eating foods rich in EPA and DHA, and supplementing with these fatty
acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease. Fatty acids from
fish can improve the health of the blood vessels, reduce clot formation,
lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and prevent dangerous
abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Eating two or more fish meals
per week, providing an estimated 1.2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids
per week, has been found to reduce the likelihood of heart attack
and cardiac death. In one study, people whose diets provided about
2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day and who took a supplement
providing an additional 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day reduced
their risk of death from heart disease by 30 to 45%.
The FDA has approved this qualified health
claim because it has found the evidence supporting the link between
EPA and DHA intake and reduced risk of heart disease to be credible,
though not conclusive. The guidelines for permitting qualified
health claims are outlined in the FDA’s “Interim Procedures for Qualified Health
Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary
Supplements.” This is the second time this year that the FDA
has acknowledged the health benefits of certain foods. Packages of
walnuts are now allowed to make similar qualified claims (see Healthnotes
Newswire, July 29, 2004).
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s
degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of
Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She
has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work
with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr.
Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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