Heavy Drinkers Lack Omega-3 Nutrient

WEDNESDAY July 25, 2007 -- Men who binge drink have lower levels of disease-fighting omega-3 fatty acids than their peers, a new study finds.

This lack of a key essential fatty acid suggests that men who drink alcohol heavily also make poor dietary choices and could benefit from more fish in their diet, the researchers reported in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are important building blocks of living cells, making up a substantial part of cell walls," Norman Salem Jr., chief of the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry & Biophysics at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said in a prepared statement. "EFAs also have many biological functions, and a lack of them leads to loss of growth and development, infertility, and a host of physiological and biochemical abnormalities," he noted.

In the study, Salem's group pored over data comparing the EFA levels and alcohol intake of almost 4,200 adults. The data was collected as part of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Results indicate that EFA consumption falls as drinking levels rise, particularly among men.

The polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-6 linoleic acid, also known as n-6 fats, and omega-3 linolenic acid, or n-3 fats, are the most important EFAs, according to J. Thomas Brenna, professor of human nutrition and of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University.

"The changes we found indicate that those who drink alcohol make food selections in such a way as to decrease foods with this important nutrient. The binge-drinking men have decreases in the longer chain n-3 fatty acids, the ones we typically get from eating fish, and so this suggests they eat less fish," Salem said.

Alcohol has lasting negative effects on the brain and also negatively affects the way the body uses fatty acids, according to Salem.

"The brain depends on a supply of omega-3," Salem said. "The brains of men consuming high levels of alcohol, particularly those who regularly binge drink, are further compromised by a low intake of EFA. In summary, for those who drink, especially binge drinkers or those who drink more than one drink per day on average: Make sure that you obtain your sources of n-3 fatty acids in the diet, that is, eat more fish."

Binge drinking is commonly defined as drinking five or more drinks in one setting, or drinking for the purpose of becoming intoxicated.

More information

To learn about alcoholism, visit the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Posted: July 2007


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