People may be more likely to age without health problems when they have higher blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids, a recent study from Tufts University in Boston suggests.
The researchers focused on “healthy aging”, the number of years people live without developing disabilities or physical or mental health problems. They examined data on 2,622 adults who were 74 years old on average, and followed them from 1992 to 2015. Only 11 percent of participants experienced healthy aging throughout the entire study period.
National guidelines advise that adults eat about eight ounces a week of seafood, ideally by eating it twice a week in place of meat, poultry or eggs. Choices that are high in omega 3s include salmon, anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, oysters, trout and Atlantic or Pacific mackerel.
Higher omega-3’s, longer and healthier lives
In the study, people with the highest blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids were 18 percent to 21 percent less likely to experience unhealthy aging.
Researchers measured blood levels of omega 3s at the start of the study and again after six and 13 years had passed. These included eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). The main sources of EPA, DHA and DPA are fish seafood, while ALA is found mainly in walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and soybeans.
Based on these measurements, researchers split participants into five groups, from lowest to highest levels of circulating omega 3s.
After accounting for social, economic and lifestyle factors, researchers found that people with the highest levels of seafood-derived EPA were 24 percent less likely to experience unhealthy aging that individuals with the lowest levels of EPA.
For DPA levels, participants in the top three groups were 18 to 21 percent less likely to experience unhealthy aging. Seafood-derived DHA and plant-derived ALA, however, didn’t appear to influence the chance of healthy aging.
A possible explanation for this protective effect is that omega 3s help to regulate blood pressure, heart rate and inflammation.
Previous research has linked omega-3s to a lower risk of abnormal heartbeats, less fats in the blood, reduced risk of artery-clogging deposits known as plaque, and slightly lower blood pressure.
The current study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how omega 3s might directly influence health. Another drawback is that it didn’t look at omega 3 supplements.
Source: BMJ, online October 17, 2018.
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