Eat Small Fish for Longer Life, Study Says

Women who eat small fish regularly may be at a lower risk of dying from cancer and other causes.

Fish is an essential part of a healthy diet, and adults should eat at least 8 ounces of seafood per week, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Shrimp, tuna, and clams are the most popular seafood in the United States. However, women would especially benefit from eating small fish, such as whitebait, Atlantic capelin, Japanese smelt, and small dried sardines, according to a recent study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

The study included 80,802 participants aged 35 to 69 years nationwide in Japan. They reported the intake of small fish using a food frequency questionnaire.


During the follow-up period of 9 years, 2,482 deaths of the participants were recorded, with 60% (1,495) of people dying from cancer.

Women who ate small fish regularly were significantly less likely to die from all causes and cancer.

More specifically, women who eat small fish one to three times a month, one to three times a week, or three times or more a week had 0.68, 0.72, and 0.69 times the risk of all-cause mortality, and 0.72, 0.71, and 0.64 times the risk of cancer mortality, compared to those who rarely eat small fish.

The authors say that incorporating small fish into daily diets could be a simple but effective strategy to reduce the risk of mortality among women.

Although men's consumption of small fish showed similar trends, the difference was not statistically significant. Researchers say the reasons behind this difference are unclear, but they could be possibly explained by the limited number of male subjects or other factors not measured in the study, including the portion size of small fish.

Moreover, the difference in the cancer type causing cancer mortality among the sexes may be related to a sex-specific association.

Small fish are easy for everyone to eat, and they can be consumed whole, including the head, bones, and organs, Dr. Chinatsu Kasahara, an associate professor at Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, said in a statement.

"Nutrients and physiologically active substances unique to small fish could contribute to maintaining good health. The inverse relationship between the intake of small fish and the mortality risk in women underscores the importance of these nutrient-dense foods in people's diets," Kasahara said.


However, further research is needed, as the study shows an association rather than a causal relationship. Moreover, studies based on self-reporting questionnaires can be subject to bias, as people may not be able to accurately remember what they ate.

The benefits of eating small fish

A recent study published in Nature Foods compared the nutrient content in salmon and small wild fish such as Pacific and Peruvian anchoveta, Atlantic herring, mackerel, sprat, and blue whiting.

It found that calcium, iodine, iron, omega-3, vitamin B12, and vitamin A yield higher in wild fish than in salmon.

These nutrients are essential for overall health. For example, omega-3 fatty acids are necessary to maintain a healthy heart, aid brain function, reduce the risk of some mental and neurological diseases, and prevent inflammation.

Calcium helps keep bones and muscles healthy, prevents blood clotting, and regulates heart function.

Iodine supports healthy thyroid functioning, while iron is crucial for the body to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body.

Vitamin B12 is essential for blood cell formation and nerve function, among other things. Additionally, vitamin A helps ensure normal vision, the immune system, reproduction, and growth and development.

More research is needed to determine whether regular consumption of small fish can significantly reduce the risk of cancer and all-cause mortality. Nevertheless, this type of fish is rich in essential nutrients, benefiting human health in many ways.


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