What Are Amazing Benefits of Salmon Fish
BENEFITS RELATED TO OMEGA-3 CONTENT
Salmon has earned its research reputation as a health-supportive food based largely on its unusual omega-3 fatty acid content. It’s very common for 4 ounces of baked or broiled salmon to contain at least 2 grams of omega-3 fats—more than the average U.S. adult gets from all food over the course of several days. (If we consider 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids to be a daily goal for a person consuming a 2,000 calorie diet—based upon recommendations from the 1999 Workshop on the Essentiality of and Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDI) for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—then this would equal about 50% of this goal. For more on this, see our write-up on omega-3s.)
About half of this omega-3 fat is provided in the form of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and a slightly lower amount is provided in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The amounts of EPA and DHA contained in salmon are unusual among commonly-eaten foods. In addition to this high concentration of omega-3 fats is the relatively small amount of omega-6 fats in salmon and its outstanding ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Four ounces of salmon will typically contain less than 1/2 gram of omega-6 fat, for an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of approximately 5.5 to 1. In the average U.S. diet, this ratio has repeatedly been shown to be lop-sided in the opposite direction, with at least 4-5 times as much omega-6 fat as omega-3 fat, and in some studies, up to 12-20 times more. In our World’s Healthiest Foods rating system for food, only two foods provide more omega-3s per standard serving than salmon. Those two foods are walnuts and flaxseeds. Both of these plant foods are outstanding sources of omega-3s! However, they cannot be compared on an equal basis to salmon because their omega-3 fats come in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) rather than EPA or DHA.
The widely-studied benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are documented in our Omega-3 Fatty Acids profile in the Essential Nutrients section of our website. In general, these benefits involve improved control of the body’s inflammatory processes, better overall cell function, improved transfer of information between the body’s cells, and better brain function. When researchers look specifically at intake of omega-3-containing fish like salmon, they find health support in all of the above areas. However, some areas of omega-3 support are what we would call “standout” areas. These areas include:
Intake of fish rich in omega-3 fat (including salmon) is associated with decreased risk of numerous cardiovascular problems, including: heart attack, stroke, heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides in the blood. Intake of omega-3-containing fish is also associated with improved metabolic markers for cardiovascular disease. Some cardiovascular benefits from omega-3 fat in fish like salmon start with only one omega-3 fish meal per week. Most of the benefits, however, start to show up in research studies with somewhat higher fish intake, along the lines of 2-3 times per week. In most studies, one serving of fish is approximately 6 ounces. Studies of fish intake and cardiovascular risk sometimes measure benefits against total grams of omega-3 fats obtained in the daily diet. In many of these studies, a daily minimum of 2 grams of omega-3s is required for measurable cardiovascular protection. (Remember that this 2-gram amount is the amount contained in approximately 4 ounces of cooked salmon.)
Improved Mood and Cognition
Many researchers consider DHA to be the most important fat found in the human brain, and the unusual concentration of this omega-3 fatty acid in salmon helps explain the research-documented benefits of salmon and omega-3 fish intake for thinking and the decreased risk of certain brain-related problems that accompanies omega-3 fish consumption. Intake of omega-3s and omega-3 containing fish is associated with decreased risk of depression, decreased risk of hostility in some studies of teenagers, and decreased risk of cognitive decline in older persons. Some studies have shown an association between IQ and omega-3 intake, and also between IQ and intake of omega-3 fish.
Especially interesting in this area of fish intake, DHA, and brain function is the relatively recent discovery of protectins. Protectins are special compounds made from DHA and preliminary research studies have shown them to have a potentially important role as anti-inflammatory regulatory molecules, especially when produced by nerve tissue. (When protectins are produced by nerve tissue, they are typically called “neuroprotectins.”) Researchers have speculated that at least some of the brain-related benefits from omega-3 fish intake may be due to conversion of the DHA in these fish to protectins that can help prevent excessive inflammation.
One fascinating area of omega-3 and omega-3 fish research has involved the joints. Research on fish intake and joint protection has shown that EPA from fish like salmon can be converted by the body into three types of closely-related compounds that work to prevent unwanted inflammation. One group of compounds are the series 3 prostaglandins. A second type are the series 3 thromboxanes. A third and more recently discovered type are the resolvins. All of these omega-3 fat derivatives are able to help prevent excessive and unwanted inflammation. What’s especially interesting about salmon, however, is that it combines these anti-inflammatory benefits that are related to omega-3 content with anti-inflammatory benefits that are related not to fat but to protein. Recent studies demonstrate the presence of small bioactive protein molecules (called bioactive peptides) in salmon that may provide special support for joint cartilage (as well as other types of tissue). One particular bioactive peptide called calcitonin has been of special interest in these studies, because a human form of calcitonin is made in the human body by the thyroid gland, and we know that it is a key hormone for helping regulate and stabilize the balance of collagen and minerals in the bone and surrounding tissue. Salmon peptides—including calcitonin (sCT)—may join forces with salmon’s omega-3 molecules to provide unique anti-inflammatory benefits for the joints
Omega-3 intake and consumption of omega-3 fish has been associated with decreased risk of two eye-related problems: macular degeneration and chronic dry eye. In the case of macular degeneration (a chronic eye problem in which material in the center of the retina on the back of the eyeball begins to deteriorate and cause loss of vision), two fish servings per week is the amount that has been shown to significantly decrease risk. For decreased risk of chronic dry eye, a somewhat higher amount of omega-3 fish intake (2-4 servings per week) was the minimum amount needed, with 5-6 weekly servings showing even greater reduction of risk.
Like brain studies on omega-3 fish intake, dry eye studies have started to look specifically at neuroprotectins made from DHA in salmon and other omega-3 fish. These omega-3 derived molecules may help prevent chronic dry eye by lowering background levels of inflammation in the eye.
Decreased Cancer Risk
Intake of fish rich in omega-3 fat is also associated with decreased risk for several types of cancer. These cancer types include colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. Some of the strongest findings for decreased cancer risk following regular intake of omega-3 fish involve the blood cell or lymph cell-related cancers including leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Similar to cardiovascular studies, cancer risk studies typically begin to show measurable benefits when omega-3 fish are consumed at least once per week.
Benefits Related to Protein and Amino Acid Content
The outstanding omega-3 benefits of salmon are not this food’s only claim to unique health support. One intriguing new area of health benefits for salmon involves the protein and amino acid content of this fish. Several recent studies have found that salmon contains small bioactive protein molecules (called bioactive peptides) that may provide special support for joint cartilage, insulin effectiveness, and control of inflammation in the digestive tract. We’ve seen recent studies, for example, on salmon peptides and treatment of ulcerative colitis. We also have to wonder whether intake of salmon peptides may be related to the reduced risk of colorectal cancer that is associated with consumption of this food. One particular bioactive peptide called calcitonin has been of special interest in these salmon and amino acid studies. The human body makes its own human form of calcitonin (through a process which takes place in the thyroid gland), and we know that calcitonin is a key hormone for helping regulate and stabilize the balance of collagen and minerals in the bone and surrounding tissue. As researchers learn more and more about salmon peptides—including calcitonin (sCT), and its relationship to human calcitonin—we expect to see more and more of salmon’s potential.
Benefits Related to Selenium
Another nutrient concentrated in salmon worthy of special mention is selenium. In terms of absolute selenium amount, salmon ranks in our WHFoods top 10, and four ounces provide about 62% of the Daily Value (DV) for this mineral. Strong selenium intake is associated with decreased risk of joint inflammation, and also with prevention of certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. As an antioxidant nutrient, selenium has also been shown to be especially important in cardiovascular protection through maintenance of the molecule glutathione. Each of these selenium-related benefits overlaps with other spotlight areas for salmon as a health-supportive food.
With exceptional nutritional value due to their rich concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a favorite among fish lovers and enjoyed even by those who are not always fond of fish. Salmon are incredible fish sometimes traveling thousands of miles throughout their life cycle and within two to five years returning to the very location where they were born to spawn and die. The specific characteristics and life cycles of salmon vary with each species. (For example, king salmon has a life cycle of approximately 4-6 years, sockeye, 4-6 years, and silver 3-4 years.)
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