Modern Salmon: Healthy Fish With a Dark Side

By Kristy Podruchny

Fresh Salmon is a buttery pink meat that happens to be one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA.  It is a high protein, low calorie food that is a great source of vitamin D, B12 and selenium to name a few. What’s not to love?

Salmon also contains a pigment called astaxanthin (ASX) that, according to a study from Nutrients, has “potent antiwrinkle and antioxidant effects” and “may prevent UV-induced immunosuppression.”  Another study from Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that ASX improves brain health and spatial memory!

The high omega-3 fatty acid content in salmon is what gives this fish much of its reputation for being a healthy food.  These are essential fatty acids that can’t be produced in our bodies and must be eaten.  This high omega-3 content means that digging into salmon on a regular basis could also help manage symptoms of ADHD.  Researchers who published a study in Journal of Lipids concluded “omega-3/6 fatty acids offer great promise as a suitable adjunctive therapy for ADHD.”

According to the Washington State Department of Health (WSDH), DHA and EPA help reduce inflammation in our bodies and are important for heart and brain health.  The amount of omega-3 fatty acids present in salmon depends on what the fish has been eating.  Farmed salmon are fed a specific diet meant to keep those amounts even with, or higher than wild salmon.  If you’re trying to avoid soy or GMO’s, keep in mind that farmed salmon are often fed fishmeal, grains and oilseeds that are often soy-derived.  The highly controversial genetically engineered salmon are also set to hit the market in 2020.

Did you know that eating salmon may help prevent and treat certain types of cancer?  According to the National Institutes of Health, “some studies have shown associations between higher intakes and/or blood levels of omega-3s and a decreased risk of certain cancers, including breast and colorectal cancers.”  A study of women aged 50-76 cited by the NIH found that women who took fish oil supplements had “32 percent lower risk of breast cancer after a mean of six years than those who did not take fish oil.”

Overfishing and environmental pollutants like PCB’s and POP’s have given the farmed version of this flavorful and nourishing fish a dark side.  The pollutants come from industrial chemical waste, pesticides and pharmaceuticals and are stored and accumulate in fatty tissue.

A study published in BMC fed mice POP’s sourced from farmed Atlantic salmon and discovered that POP’s can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  A similar study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health noted that “POPs via salmon oil consumption induced abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis.”  This is something to keep in mind while you’re seeking out the perfect salmon fillet.  Next time you’re out grocery shopping, take time to glance at the label to make sure you’re buying sustainably harvested wild salmon. 

The amount of omega-3 fatty acids present in salmon depends on what the fish has been eating.

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