A study involving 9,000 adults conducted at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health found eating foods containing polyunsaturated fatty acids such as peanut butter and salmon reduced gum disease. The specific fatty acids associated with gum disease reduction were docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Researcher Asghar Z. Naqvi said, “To date, the treatment of periodontitis has primarily involved mechanical cleaning and local antibiotic application. Thus, a dietary therapy, if effective, might be a less expensive and safer method for the prevention and treatment of periodontitis. Given the evidence indicating a role for n-3 fatty acids in other chronic inflammatory conditions, it is possible that treating periodontitis with n-3 fatty acids could have the added benefit of preventing other chronic diseases associated with inflammation, including stoke as well.” Source: (Eurekalert.org)
The study was conducted between 1999 and 2004. Subjects received dental examinations and were interviewed about their dietary intake to estimate intake of DHA, EPA and linoleic acid including supplementation of those acids from non-food sources. There was about a 20 percent reduction in the number of subjects with gum disease for those with the highest DHA intake. One of the researchers also observed the potential benefit of gum disease reduction occurred with a modest intake of DHA, and EPA.
In addition, the positive effect was seen with supplements containing DHA and EPA. If there is a positive effect from taking supplements such as fish oil containing DHA and EPA, they could be an alternative to peanut butter or other nuts for those with nut allergies. For vegetarians, DHA can be ingested in pill form made from microalgae, which is a non-animal source. Otherwise, it is also found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. DHA intake could also lower heart disease risk. EPA is also found in cold-water fish, and microalgae.
It is worth mentioning, foods containing peanut butter but also high in sugar such as desserts, or candies containing peanut butter most likely are not going to have the same benefit, as gum disease and high sugar intake are linked. So plain peanut butter with a low sugar level would probably be best.
The full article title is “n-3 Fatty Acids and Periodontitis in US Adults” by Asghar Z. Naqvi, MPH, MNS; Catherine Buettner, MD, MPH; Russell S. Phillips, MD; Roger B. Davis, ScD; and Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, MPH, MA. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 110, Issue 11 (November 2010)
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