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Intake levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids are well below recommended levels for most people in Australia

March 14, 2016

A new paper shows that most Australians do not meet the recommended intake levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids. Less than one quarter of adults meet the recommendations for optimal health. In women of child-bearing age, the median intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), widely recognized as being essential for an infant’s brain development, is only 51 mg day – only one quarter of recommended levels.

A new study has looked at marine omega-3 fatty acid intake in all age groups in Australia (1). The paper has used source data from the 2011–12 Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS). The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has a suggested dietary target (SDT) for marine omega-3  fatty acid intake of 430 mg/day for adult females and 620 mg/day for adult males for the prevention of chronic disease (2). The International Society for the Study of  Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommends a daily intake of 500 mg for cardiovascular health. Further, it makes a separate recommendation that pregnant and lactating women should consume at least 200 mg/day of DHA (3).

The new study showed that less than one quarter of adults meet the recommendations for optimal health. The mean intake levels for adult Australians was calculated at 395 mg/day, comprising of 277 mg/day from food and 118 mg/day from supplements. Strikingly, the median intake levels are less than 55% of the mean intakes, which means most people have very low intake levels (154 mg/day), with a small, elite section who consume marine omega 3 supplements having much higher levels. Indeed, if only adults who do not consume supplements are considered, only 10% achieve the recommended levels, whereas approximately half of those who do consume supplements achieve the recommended levels. Whilst the mean daily consumption of fish and seafood in Australia is only 24 g for females and 28 g for males, it still provides over 90% of total marine omega-3  fatty acid intake. On a positive note, the overall marine omega-3  fatty acid intake increased by 54% from 1995 to 2015, with a massive 115% increase in the 65+ years category.

Of particular concern is that the median intake levels of marine omega-3  fatty acids and DHA in women of child-bearing age were 119 mg/day and 51 mg/day respectively. DHA is widely recognized as being essential for an infant’s brain development, yet the current intake levels provide only one quarter of the recommended levels (3). In summary, the new paper shows that most Australians fail to consume sufficient marine omega-3  fatty acids in their diet in order for it to have a preventative effect on non-communicable disease. The main reason for this is that their diet is predominantly meat-based, and the consumption levels of seafood are low and the trend is flat. The paper indicates that specific supplementation with DHA should be considered in women of child-bearing age to ensure optimum development of the central nervous system in infants.

References

  1. Meyer B ; “Australians are not Meeting the Recommended Intakes for Omega-3 Long ChainPolyunsaturatedFatty Acids: Results of an Analysis from the 2011–2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey”; Nutrients 2016, 8(3): 111. doi.org/10.3390/nu8030111
  2. National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand including Recommended Dietary Intakes; Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing: Canberra, Australia, 2006
  3. International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids andLipids (ISSFAL). PUFA Recommendations. Available online: www.issfal.org/statements/pufa-recommendations (accessed March 8th, 2016)