15th October

Global health catastrophe on the horizon

A leading authority on how dietary Omega-3 affects the developing human brain has called for global seafood production to be stepped up significantly to offset the catastrophic impact that diets low in essential fatty acids will have on the health of future generations.

Dr Pat Wall, Dr Alex Richardson, Paula Mee and Prof Michael Crawford debate the role of Omega-3 as part of a healthy diet at World Seafood Congress 2007

Dr Pat Wall, Dr Alex Richardson, Paula Mee and Prof Michael Crawford debate the role of Omega-3 as part of a healthy diet at World Seafood Congress 2007

Professor Michael Crawford, founder of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at the London Metropolitan University said that the world was now facing a “serious health crisis” as seen by a dramatic rise in food-related disorders linked specifically to insufficient essential fatty acids in the diet: 

“If brain disorders continue to escalate in this century the way that heart disease did in the last one, then we are looking at a really unthinkable situation in the children that are yet to be born,” Professor Crawford declared in a keynote address to delegates at the World Seafood Congress in Dublin.

“People today talk about obesity as a serious health problem, but this is a trivial item compared with the threat of the rise in brain disorders. The audit for the burden of ill health throughout Europe shows that brain disorders have now overtaken all other burdens of ill health at a cost of €386 billion at 2004 prices, and it’s going to get worse.”

Spiralling consequences
Crawford claims that as far back as 1972, he and other scientists working in the area of nutrition and human brain development warned governments that unless attention was given to the issue of dietary fats, the incidence of brain disorders would “spiral out of control” within a generation:

“And here we are, thirty years later faced with a serious crisis that we actually predicted. It’s the children of tomorrow whose future health and activities are at stake, and something must be done about it now,” he said.

As to what caused this crisis to develop, Crawford claims that it is the direct result of a fundamental error by scientists in the last century who saw protein - and not the essential fatty acids - as the nutritional driver responsible for placing Homo sapiens at the top of the evolutionary tree:

“I believe that the concept of protein and body growth in the last century was false and misleading in quite a serious way,” Crawford declared.

“The brain is made of fat, and just in the same way that essential amino acids are used to build protein, you also need essential fatty acids of the Omega-6 and Omega-3 variety to build the fats used in the brain.

“The priority is the brain, and this is vested in the mother. It’s the mother that creates the brain inside her womb.”

Marine food chain
He added that the expansion of the human brain requires a plentiful source of pre-formed DHA, and that the richest source of DHA was the marine food chain whereas the savanna environment offered very little of it.

This, according to Crawford, is the reason why Homo sapiens had to have evolved close to a marine environment and not on the savannas as once believed.

Crawford believes that recent fossil evidence indicates that “the lacustrine and marine food chain” was being extensively exploited at the time cerebral expansion took place, and suggests the alternative that the transition from the archaic to modern humans took place at the land/water interface.

And he sees this as the key reason why humankind must now “return to the marine environment” in order to be able to find the required amount of Omega-3 in its diet. This, he said, was essential because modern agriculture, hunting and gathering will not be able to supply the required amount.

Dark Ages
“This hunting and gathering we do today in the sea is no use because it’s basically just a ten thousand year-old technology with better tools. We are in the Dark Ages as far as the use of the oceans is concerned” he declared.

“It worked for a while because we believed that it was plentiful as a food resource. We have suddenly woken up however to the fact that it’s not quite as plentiful as we thought.”

“The next step forward has to be the ‘agriculturising’ of the oceans and to make use of the most incredible food resource on the planet. It is untenable to think that with what little arable land there is in the world we can hope to feed growing world populations.”

Concluding his remarks, Professor Crawford praised the Irish government’s commitment to develop the seafood sector in the National Development Plan 2007-2013. And he added he was impressed by Minister Browne’s call for “an in-depth consultation with all the stakeholders” that would give rise to a long-term and visionary seafood development plan.

“I applaud this kind of spirit by a government minister responsible for seafood, and I wish you well in promoting such ideas,” he concluded.

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