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Omega-3’s May Be Good for Gums

By Rachael E. Apfel, Contributing Writer

Incorporating foods with omega-3 fatty acids into your diet may help prevent gum disease, according to a recent study conducted by Harvard researchers.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health were able to link the intake of two specific omega-3 fatty acids—DHA and EPA—with lower levels of the gum disease periodontitis in participants. This infectious, chronic disease causes gum tissue to separate from the teeth, leading to the accumulation of bacteria. In severe cases, it can eventually cause bone and tooth loss.

“This is significant because [omega-3 fatty acids] are a commonly taken supplement in the U.S., and yet we haven’t had very many side effects reported,” said Asghar Z. Naqvi, an instructor in medicine at the Medical School and the lead author of the study.  “However, I don’t think that the average reader should start taking omega-3’s to prevent gum disease,” he added.

Medical School Associate Professor Kenneth J. Mukamal, who is also a senior author of the study, agreed with Naqvi’s conclusion, but added that a change in diet would not hurt.

“While a single cross-sectional study isn’t enough to make people change their diet, it is already recommended by the American Heart Association to eat at least two fatty fish meals a week,” Mukamal said. “This would fit well within the range of intake in which we saw lower levels of periodontitis.”

Slated to be published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the study marks the beginning of a more intense exploration of the subject.

Naqvi is currently following up on the study with a randomized test trial to see if the findings can be replicated in a more “rigorous” experiment. Naqvi said that if these follow-up trials confirm that omega-3 fatty acids actually reduce the risk of periodontitis, the benefits would span beyond only decreasing the disease’s prevalence.

“Because some of the complications of periodontitis are cardiovascular, further confirmation of these findings will have added significance, because cardiovascular diseases are pretty much the number-one cause of mortality worldwide,” Naqvi said.

Naqvi added that increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids would also be relatively inexpensive compared with the usual treatment for periodontits, which often consists of surgeries.

“I think that the potential implications of this study should be taken quite seriously,” Naqvi said, adding that he is “eager” to continue his research.

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