The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, sardines, mackerel, and other fatty fish are known to have a variety of health benefits, including lowering triglycerides (a type of blood fat) and reducing the risk of heart attack. Now, research recently published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that fish oil may have another health benefit — helping stave off gum disease. People with diabetes are known to have more frequent and more severe cases of gum disease, and gum disease is thought to cause high blood glucose levels.
Gum disease is a chronic inflammation of the gums that can cause the gums to separate from the teeth and that can eventually result in loss of the bone that supports the teeth. To investigate the association between consumption of omega-3-rich fish oil and gum disease, researchers divided roughly 9200 adults included in the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey into three groups based on their self-reported consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in the prior 24 hours.
Dental exams indicated that those in the middle and upper third for consuming omega-3 fatty acids were between 23% and 30% less likely to have gum disease than people consuming the lowest amount of omega-3s. (Consumption of docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] and eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] specifically were linked with less gum disease; the association with consumption of linolenic acid [LNA] was not statistically significant.) The researchers took into account factors that could affect the chance of someone having gum disease, including age, income, education, health, and other socioeconomic factors.
“There are a lot of benefits of omega-3 fatty acids,” notes lead study author Kenneth Mukamal, MD. “We have good evidence they prevent sudden death caused by heart rhythm disturbances. We have some evidence omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. This is a great example of another potential benefit… Eating a very feasible amount of fatty fish seems to have a lot of benefit.”
Because the study only looked at food consumption over the course of a single day, the researchers could not provide any guidelines on how much fish oil people should consume regularly. However, they suggest that following the recommendations of groups such as the American Heart Association, which advises eating fatty fish at least twice a week, is probably a good idea both for gum health and health in general. In an accompanying editorial, Elizabeth Krall Kaye, PhD, noted that while the study supports incorporation of fatty fish into the diet, it does not necessarily support incorporating fish oil supplements.