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Studies & Articles

Fish Oil may Prevent Gum Disease

by Dato' Dr.Rajen M

THERE seem to be more and more benefits to eating fish -- and taking fish oil supplements. Now, according to an article published in a leading medical journal, it has been found to even help keep your gums healthy. Soon, your dentist may be telling you to eat more fish and take omega 3 supplements.

Gum disease affects about one in three adults and symptoms include painful, bleeding, receding or infected gums, bad breath and toothache. However, the exact cause of gum disease is sometimes unknown.

It often starts as a mild inconvenience with only a few of the-symptoms described above. But it can quickly spread.

About 54 per cent of men and 46 per cent of women over age 30 in the United States experience gingival bleeding, the earliest sign of periodontal disease.

In the general population, about 11 per cent of adults aged 50 to 64 have moderate or severe periodontitis. The figure rises to 20 per cent of those over age 75. In the study, about 8.2 percent of participants had periodontitis.

Gum inflammation The article published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports that periodontitis, a disease characterised by inflammation of the gums and the development of pockets between the teeth and gums that can lead to tooth loss, is less prevalent among those with a higher intake of omega 3 fatty acids.

These fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and are often reduced in the average Western diet in comparison with omega 6 fatty acids.

Sadly, with the advent of globalisation and the processed food industry, all our diets are sadly becoming Western.

Dr Asghar Z. Naqvi, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and colleagues from Gum disease affects one in three adults Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health evaluated data from 9,182 men and women who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2004.

Dental examinations determined the presence of periodontitis, and dietary questionnaire and interview responses were assessed for the intake of EPA, DHA and linolenic acid from food and supplements.

Periodontitis was detected in 8.2 per cent of the subjects. Among those whose intake of DHA from diet and supplements was among the top one-third of participants, there was a 20 per cent lower risk of the disease compared with those whose intake was among the lowest third. For subjects in the top third of EPA intake, the risk averaged 15 per cent lower. No statistically significant association was observed between periodontitis and linolenic acid.

Inverse association "We found that omega 3 fatty acid intake, particularly DHA and EPA, are inversely associated with periodontitis in the US population," Dr Naqvi concluded.

"To date, the treatment of periodontitis has primarily involved mechanical cleaning and local antibiotic application. Thus, a dietary therapy, if effective, might be a less expensive and safer method for the prevention and treatment of periodontitis."

"Given the evidence indicating a role for omega 3 fatty acids in other chronic inflammatory conditions, it is possible that treating periodontitis with omega 3 fatty acids can have the added benefit of preventing other chronic diseases associated with inflammation, including stroke."

In an accompanying editorial, Elizabeth Krall Kaye, PhD of Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine notes that prior to the current research, few studies had evaluated the effect of omega 3 or omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids on periodontal disease.

"The strength of the association provides compelling grounds for future longitudinal studies and clinical trials to define optimal intake levels and omega 3 sources for the prevention and treatment of periodontal disease," she wrote.

Toxic oceans The issue with taking fish or fish oil supplement is toxins. The oceans are our toxins dumps. The Wall Street Journal (August 2005) described a 10-year old boy who suffered severe mercury poisoning because his parents believed that eating tuna was healthy.

Trying to identify the cause of the boy's newly acquired learning difficulties, a neurologist ordered tests that showed the boy's blood levels of mercury were nearly double what the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems safe.

In March 2004, the Food and Drug Administration and EPA issued a mercury urging limits on tuna consumption for children and pregnant and nursing women.

However, the limits set in this advisory may in fact exceed safe levels for some people, according to a mercury risk assessment produced by the EPA several years earlier.

Even if the joint advisory had been available in 2003 and the boy's parents had followed its recommendations, their son still would have consumed 60 per cent more mercury than the EPA can confidently assure is safe.

Let's face it. With increasing pollution, there can be no guarantee that the fish you eat is free of contaminants. The tide has turned when it comes to guaranteeing the safety of omega 3 fish oil supplements. In fact, recent studies substantiate that some supplements are safer than eating fish.

For example, analysing five brands of fish oil supplements, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston found that levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides were below the detectable limit in all five brands tested.

Today, health-conscious consumers are demanding more information about the safety of the fish oil products they consume. Reputable fish oil products now undergo rigorous testing for purity and concentration by independent quality-assurance programmes such as the International Fish Oil Standards programme.

Ask your pharmacist for advice and guidance.