“Fishful” thinking on omega-3s?

A recent article in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology questions the hypothesis that indigenous Northern populations are indeed free from some “diseases of civilization”, particularly CVD.

This hypothesis and research was popularly used in ketogenic/Paleo diet circles to justify a high-fat diet.

Yet the data that was used to generate this hypothesis (i.e. the hook that this particular hat hangs on) wasn’t particularly robust. Largely speculative and incomplete, the data doesn’t actually say what the original researchers claimed.

(Please note: I’m not saying one way or the other; just that this specific piece of evidence used to support an argument was apparently flawed.)

The lesson here is to be very careful where and how you get your data.

Look before you leap, and don’t trust the popular reporting of a study — hell, even this one.

“Fishing” for the origins of the “Eskimos and heart disease” story: Facts or wishful thinking? A review

Abstract (link)

During the 1970s, two Danish investigators, Bang and Dyerberg, upon being informed that the Greenland Eskimos had a low prevalence of coronary artery disease (CAD) set out to study the diet of this population.

Bang and Dyerberg described the “Eskimo diet” as consisting of large amounts of seal and whale blubber (i.e. fats of animal origin) and suggested that this diet was a key factor in the alleged low incidence of CAD. This was the beginning of a proliferation of studies that focused on the cardioprotective effects of the “Eskimo diet”.

In view of data, which accumulated on this topic during the past 40 years, we conducted a review of published literature to examine whether mortality and morbidity due to CAD are indeed lower in Eskimo/Inuit populations compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

Most studies found that the Greenland Eskimos as well as the Canadian and Alaskan Inuit have CAD as often as the non-Eskimo populations.

Notably, Bang and Dyerberg’s studies from the 1970s did not investigate the prevalence of CAD in this population; however, their reports are still routinely cited as evidence for the cardioprotective effect of the “Eskimo diet”. We discuss the possible motives leading to the misinterpretation of these seminal studies.

The notion that coronary artery disease (CAD) is rare among Greenland Eskimos due to high fish intake gained acceptance in the 1970s. Since then, thousands of reports on the cardioprotective effects of the “Eskimo diet” have been published.

We conducted a literature review to assess whether there was sufficient evidence to support the “Eskimo diet and low CAD” hypothesis. Our conclusion is that this hypothesis lacked a solid foundation.