According to a new study published in The BMJ, higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may increase your chances of healthy aging. Although people in our society are living longer, the way in which they age has been of some concern. Researchers have begun to examine how to live a more meaningful life, free from chronic disease and mental or physical disability.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy fat, and have been shown to protect the brain, heart, and cardiovascular system. Researchers looked at four types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), found in seafood, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plants. Fatty acids derived from seafood are known as long chain omega-3s.
Those with the highest EPA levels showed a 24% lower risk of unhealthy aging, while those with the highest DPA levels had an 18-21% lowered risk. DHA from seafood and ALA from plants were not shown to be associated with healthy aging.
While the study does not prove causation, the association between our diet and our long-term health is important. Heidi Lai, a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and lead researcher on the study, concluded:
These findings encourage the need for further investigations into plausible biological mechanisms and interventions related to [omega-3 fatty acids] for the maintenance of healthy aging, and to support guidelines for increased dietary consumption of fish in older adults.”
The research is accompanied by an editorial by professor Yeyi Zhu of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland, CA, who stresses the importance of researching healthy aging as opposed to longevity alone. “We live in challenging times, when lifespans are increasing but healthy lifespans are not. Following the World Health Organization’s policy framework for healthy aging, any evidence-based clues to improve health in later life are welcome, but additional efforts to accelerate this area of research are essential.”
It’s interesting to note that, of more than 2,600 subjects studied between 1992 and 2005, only 11% experienced healthy aging. Here at TTAC, we put an enormous emphasis on nutrition. Food is fuel for our bodies, and the choices we make can drastically impact our overall health. In addition to cardiovascular health, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, fight inflammation, and may even help prevent certain cancers.
The authors acknowledge that the preventative health benefits may explain the correlation with healthy aging. They mention its ability to help regulate inflammation and blood pressure, both major factors in chronic disease. In fact, heart disease and cancer have been the top two causes of death for nearly a century. And there may be a correlation; people who practice healthy heart habits are 38% less likely to develop cancer.
“In our study we found that adults with higher blood levels of omega-3s from seafood were more likely to live longer and healthier lives. So, it is a great idea to eat more fish,” says Lai. Proper nutrition can either promote disease or prevent it. Seafood is a well-established source of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and has been associated with a decreased brain tumor risk. Some of the best sources include wild-caught salmon, sardines, anchovies, and shellfish.