Can omega-3 fatty acids increase life expectancy?

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Share on PinterestCould Omega-3 be linked to lifespan? Jonathan Knowles / Getty Images

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are widespread in nature and are found in certain foods.
  • A new study has investigated whether there is a link between omega-3s and human life expectancy.
  • The researchers found that higher levels of omega-3s in the blood could predict a lower death rate in people over the age of 65.

It is not uncommon to go to a pharmacy or grocery store and find a bunch of omega-3 dietary supplements. It’s no secret that this particular fatty acid has a number of health benefits.

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition now suggests that it could also add years to life.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), omega-3 is one of the two main types of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These acids, which contribute to the formation of cell membranes, are considered “essential” because the body cannot produce them itself.

The NIH says that omega-3s “provide energy to the body and are used to make eicosanoids,” which affect the body’s cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems.

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). People often take DHA supplements during pregnancy as they can help the fetus develop.

Aside from supplements, some sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Soybeans
  • Rapeseed oil
  • certain fish, including salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Chia seeds

The NIH also notes that some studies suggest that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is linked to lower cancer rates, a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, and a reduction in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

The latest study involved the Medical Research Institute (IMIM) at Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, ​​Spain, and the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI) in Sioux Falls, SD.

The aim of the researchers was to find out what role omega-3 plays in life expectancy. They tracked 2,240 participants over 11 years and analyzed the omega-3 levels in the participants’ blood.

They divided the study participants into four groups:

  • People with high levels of omega-3s who have not smoked
  • People with high levels of omega-3s who have smoked
  • People with low levels of omega-3s who have not smoked
  • People with low omega-3 levels who have smoked

According to the study’s authors, “Kaplan-Meier survival curves were used to estimate the proportions of survival by age for different risk profiles.”

According to their analysis, people with high levels of omega-3s in their blood who did not smoke had the highest rate of survival. People with high omega-3 levels who smoked and those with low omega-3 levels who did not smoke were almost identical in terms of survival estimates.

After all, people with low blood omega-3 levels who smoked had the lowest rate of survival.

“This confirms what we have seen lately,” says study author Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, postdoctoral fellow in the research group on cardiovascular risks and nutrition at IMIM.

“A higher level of these acids in the blood as a result of the regular intake of fatty fish increases life expectancy by almost 5 years.”

– DR. Aleix Sala-Vila

“Being a regular smoker cuts your life expectancy by 4.7 years, just like you do if you have high omega-3 acids in your blood.”

The study co-author, Dr. William S. Harris, the President and Founder of FARI, spoke to Medical News Today about the results of the study.

He explained that doctors should encourage their patients to increase their omega-3 levels while addressing the other major risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure.

“Knowing a person’s omega-3 index is just as – if not more important – than knowing a person’s cholesterol level or blood pressure, and” correcting “the omega-3 index is much easier (and cheaper and safer) than treating all of these other risk factors; eat more fish and / or take an omega-3 supplement. “

A person should speak to a doctor to learn about their own personal risk factors and whether or not they need medical treatment.

The study had certain limitations. For example, Dr. Harris told MNT that because of the design of the study, “You can’t be certain that another factor associated with higher omega-3 levels – like a healthy lifestyle – isn’t really important in predicting risk of death.”

“So we cannot conclude that there is an ‘effect’ of higher omega-3 fatty acids on the risk of death; All we can say is that there is a “link” between higher omega-3 levels and the risk of death, “he added.

In an interview with MNT, Dr. Harris also clarified that although people with high omega-3 levels who smoked and people with low omega-3 levels who did not smoke had almost identical survival estimates, “this should not be taken into account”. means that taking fish oil capsules somehow “wipes out” the negative effects of smoking.

The researchers plan to expand their study to include participants who are not based in the United States. They want to see if their results match or not with people from different backgrounds.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, a nutritionist with a master’s degree in health management and founder of KAK Consulting, was not involved in the study but spoke to MNT about the results.

“It is noteworthy that this study not only examined the longevity benefits that total omega-3 intake can have, but also that it led to dietary recommendations based on biomarkers such as blood levels of omega-3 types can lead. ”

“The article also recommended discussing the consumption of oily fish,” said Kirkpatrick. “This is in line with other studies showing that eating fatty fish can benefit brain health (including mental health) and longevity. I’m not surprised by the research, but I would like to see if the results are consistent with both dietary supplements and whole foods. “

The study authors identified some conflicts of interest regarding the study. For example, lead author Dr. Michael I. McBurney with OmegaQuant Analytics, a lab that offers omega-3 blood tests. Dr. Harris is also involved in OmegaQuant Analytics.

In addition, Dr. Sala-Vila has received institutional research funding and support for attending technical meetings from the California Walnut Commission.

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