Regular consumption of naturally enriched omega-3 chicken and eggs is likely to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia and cancer, according to the results of a six-month clinical trial, said to be a world first, delivered by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland on behalf of Devenish Nutrition.

After a pilot study, the 161 subjects in the clinical study consumed at least three portions of chicken and eggs per week that were naturally enriched with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), the same nutrient found in oily fish.

The results revealed an increase in omega-3 PUFA levels in blood and a positive shift in the “omega-3 index” which measures the amount of the fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in red blood cell membranes, reflecting the levels in heart and other tissues.

Efficient absorption

A low omega-3 index (<4 percent) indicates a heightened risk of heart and brain disease. The study showed that consuming omega-3-enriched chicken and eggs halved the number of subjects with a high-risk omega-3 index.

The trial results were presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions -- a global exchange for cardiovascular scientists and clinicians -- on November 14. The chicken meat and eggs used in the study came from birds fed OmegaPro, an algae-based source of omega-3 PUFA developed by Devenish.

Broad benefits

According to Dr. Patrick Wall, professor of public health at University College Dublin, by enriching birds’ diets, the meat and eggs become naturally enriched with omega-3 PUFA and associated nutritional benefits are then passed on to consumers.

Morbidity is unevenly distributed in society and pooper people experience poorer health. By including omega-3 in chicken meat and eggs -- both very affordable sources of protein -- all segments of the population could benefit.

Less than 20 percent of the world’s population is thought to be eating enough omega-3.

In the U.K., Devenish has been working with Moy Park, whose enriched meat has been sold via supermarket chain Waitrose, but is now looking to roll enrichment out further.

Devenish notes that offering birds a sustainable source of omega-3 PUFA is good not only for consumers, but for the birds themselves. It also is looking at producing nutrient-rich pork, beef and milk with scientifically proven health claims, with omega-3 being only one nutrient of interest.