The Eskimo Myth |

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As I reviewed in my video Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?, the revelation that fish oil appears useless in preventing heart disease—in both heart patients and those trying to prevent heart disease in the first place—leads one to wonder how this whole fish tale began.

The common mythology is that in response to anecdotal reports of a low prevalence of coronary heart disease among the Eskimo, Danish researchers Bang and Dyerberg went there and confirmed a very low incidence of heart attack. The absence of coronary artery disease would be strange in a meat-based diet with hardly any fruits and vegetables—“in other words, a diet that violates all principles of balanced and heart-healthy nutrition.” This paradox was attributed to all the seal and whale blubber, which is extremely rich in omega-3 fish fat, and the rest is history.

There’s a problem, though. It isn’t true.

As I discuss in my video Omega-3s and the Eskimo Fish Tale, the fact is Bang and Dyerberg never examined the cardiovascular status of the Eskimo; they just accepted at face value this notion that coronary atherosclerosis is almost unknown among the Eskimo, a concept that has been disproven over and over starting back in the 1930s. In fact, going back more than a thousand years, we have frozen Eskimo mummies with atherosclerosis. From 500 years ago, a woman in her early 40s had atherosclerosis in her aorta and coronary arteries. And these aren’t just isolated cases. The totality of evidence from actual clinical investigations, autopsies, and imaging techniques is that they have the same plague of coronary artery disease that non-Eskimo populations have, and the Eskimo actually have twice the fatal stroke rate and don’t live particularly long.

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