A diet of Alaska salmon rich in Omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect Yup'ik people from diabetes and heart disease -- even when the individuals in question have become obese, according to a recent study that examined eating habits and health in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region.
Scientists found that Yup'ik people in general consume about 20 times more of the complex fish oils every year than do people in the Lower 48 states, a subsistence-driven cuisine that may actually shield them from many health problems blamed on obesity, junk food and inactivity.
Y-K residents show similar levels of obesity as the overall U.S. population, yet experience far lower prevalence of the adult-onset diabetes linked to poor diet and weight issues -- about 3.3 percent versus about 7.7 percent.
You can read the rest of the Dispatch article here. And if you're brave you can read an abstract of the original article from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition with the serious title of:
Associations of obesity with triglycerides and C-reactive protein are attenuated in adults with high red blood cell eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids.
But, take this with a grain of salt (no, that's not good for your heart either) since, as the article points out, experts in the past have argued whether something is or isn't good for people to eat.
Alaska public health officials and national diet gurus sometimes clashed in the 2000s, with previous federal guidelines cautioning people against eating too much fish due to potential exposure to mercury, and Alaskan experts urging as much salmon as the plate might hold.I don't believe there are simple one-to-one cause and effect relationships in health. Many factors come to play. I would imagine that the differences in rural Alaskan life and urban Lower 48 life include a lot of other factors that may be part of the health differences. Maybe the researchers considered all that.
And there's also a discussion in the article about whether eating wild game in general is healthier than the beef Americans consume.
A final note: the article mentions they consulted with local elders before doing the study.
With the support and consultation of village elders, the scientists tested and interviewed 1,003 adults and teenagers spread among 10 southwest Alaska communities between 2003 and 2006 in pursuit of a public health mystery: How were certain people who ate the high-fat diets of traditional subsistence foods able to remain so healthy despite being overweight? [emphasis added]The Alaska Native Science Commission has a protocol for researchers doing research on Alaska Natives that requires such community involvement in how the research is conducted to protect communities from the of exploitation of past research. For example, the principles include:
One thing just leads to another. This started out about salmon and health, but everything is interconnected.
- The community must be involved as a full partner in all aspects of the research. Continuous consultation and collaboration should characterize the partnership.
- The strengths and culture of the community, including community researchers and staff as well as material resources, must be respected and utilized whenever possible.
- Written permission must be obtained from the partners before beginning the research projects.
- Permission from all individuals participating must be obtained prior to collecting personal information.
- The confidentiality of all individuals must be respected. If necessary, the community involved may choose to remain anonymous when reporting the results.
- All research results, analyses and interpretations must first be reviewed by the partners to ensure accuracy and avoid misunderstanding.
- All data collected belongs to the community and must be returned to the community.
- The partners must all be involved in making decisions about the publication and the distribution of all or parts of the research results.
- The community must agree to the release of information.