Do Omegas Help You Live Longer?

Do Omegas Help You Live Longer?

The Vikings, renowned for their robust health and exploration prowess, regularly consumed diets rich in fatty fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. This nutritional habit may suggest ancient wisdom about the benefits of omega-3s for longevity, even if they didn't understand the scientific specifics as we do today. Their consumption of fish like herring and salmon, essential for brain and cardiovascular health, raises an intriguing question: Did the Vikings know more about the secrets to a longer life through their diet than we previously acknowledged?

Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly derived from fish oil, are often touted for their potential health benefits, particularly in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Although omega-3 supplements are recommended for those with existing cardiovascular conditions, the scientific community still debates their effectiveness due to mixed results from various studies. Moreover, a well-rounded diet rich in omega-3s, among other nutrients, could contribute to improved overall health and potentially longer life. Read on to learn about the latest findings.

Recent Science on Longevity and Omega-3s

A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed that high levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, correlate with reduced risks of mortality and deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer. This research, utilizing data from over 117,000 UK Biobank participants from April 2007 to December 2021, focused on baseline plasma DHA levels rather than dietary recall, providing more reliable results. Dr. James O’Keefe, the study’s author and director at Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute, emphasized the accuracy of measuring DHA levels directly from blood, which reflects dietary intake of fish, seafood, or omega-3 supplements.

The study divided participants into five groups based on their DHA levels and examined their risk for death from all causes, including cardiovascular and cancer-related deaths. Individuals in the highest DHA group showed a 21% lower risk of all-cause mortality and similarly reduced risks for cardiovascular and cancer-related deaths compared to those in the lowest group. Additional analysis incorporating previous studies confirmed these findings, indicating significant longevity benefits associated with higher DHA levels across a large sample of over 160,000 individuals followed for 14 years.

This study is crucial as it provides robust evidence linking higher blood levels of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, with a reduced risk of mortality from all causes, including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. By utilizing direct measurements of DHA levels from blood samples rather than relying on less reliable dietary recalls, the research offers a more accurate assessment of the impact of DHA on health outcomes. Its significant sample size and the incorporation of previous studies enhance the reliability of its findings, making a compelling case for the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing mortality risks.

Three Types of Omega-3 Fish Oil

Omega fish oils are primarily available in three types: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood, while ALA is typically sourced from plant oils.

  • EPA is known for its role in reducing inflammation and has been associated with benefits for heart health and even depression.
  • DHA is crucial for brain development and function. This new study now discovers benefits in longevity.
  • ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA, though the conversion rates in the body are low. Appears to benefit the heart, immune, and nervous system.
Do Omegas Help You Live Longer?

How Much Omega-3 Do You Need?

Research highlights that omega-3 fatty acids contribute to numerous health advantages, such as better cardiovascular and immune functions, enhanced cognitive abilities, reduced blood pressure, and improved heart rate and stress vulnerability. 

The daily recommended intake for omega-3s varies, but generally, adults should aim for close to 500mg of EPA and DHA per day. It is possible to meet this requirement through diet alone, particularly by consuming fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, which are rich in omega-3s. Despite these important benefits, the typical American diet falls short, with less than one fish or seafood meal per week, mirroring the lowest intake levels studied. 

Researchers recommend a daily intake of about 1,000 milligrams of combined DHA and EPA to maintain optimal omega-3 blood levels, supporting the American Heart Association’s advice of consuming two fish meals weekly. 

Should You Supplement To Get Adequate Omega-3s?

Turning to omega-3 supplements can be beneficial, especially as many individuals do not consume sufficient amounts of fish, the primary dietary source of these fatty acids. 

Omega-3 supplements come in different forms, notably ethyl ester and triglyceride. The triglyceride form is similar to natural fats found in foods, which may be easier for the body to absorb. On the other hand, ethyl esters, often found in concentrated fish oil supplements, can be less expensive but might be less readily absorbed unless taken with a high-fat meal. This makes supplementation a practical choice for achieving the recommended omega-3 levels to support overall health.

Should You Be Concerned About The Type of Fish Used?

Omega-3 supplements are commonly made from fish that are lower in the food chain, as these tend to accumulate fewer contaminants like mercury and lead. Fish such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel are popular choices because they have shorter life spans and thus less exposure to pollutants. Additionally, these fish types are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are considered safer options. It's important for consumers to choose high-quality supplements that are certified for purity and tested for contaminants to ensure safety.

Cardiovascular Disease On The Rise: One Death Every 34 Seconds

In the United States, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), including heart disease and stroke, continue to be the leading causes of death. According to recent statistics, CVD accounted for approximately 931,578 deaths in 2021. On average, about 2,552 deaths occur each day from cardiovascular-related issues, with someone dying from CVD every 34 seconds. This encompasses various forms of heart disease, which are responsible for roughly 1,905 deaths daily, including heart attacks, and about 446 stroke-related deaths each day​ (​​ (American Heart Association)​.

Cancer also remains a significant cause of mortality in the U.S., with age-adjusted death rates showing a decline from 2010 to 2020. In 2020, the death rate from cancer was 170.3 per 100,000 population for males and 124.5 for females. These figures do reflect a continuous decrease in cancer mortality rates over recent years, highlighting advances in medical treatments, early detection and just maybe, omega-3 supplementation​ (cdc)​.

These statistics underline the critical health burden posed by both cardiovascular diseases and cancer, emphasizing the importance of prevention, early detection, and treatment strategies to mitigate these major causes of death. 

When Dr. O’Keefe from the Mayo Findings says “Although these findings do not imply causality, they paint a clear message that high omega-3 levels from diet or omega-3 supplementation correlate with improved life,” we should all consider omega-3s in our diet.

From Vikings to Modern Medicine: The Enduring Power of Omega-3s

The compelling findings on omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in this new study on longevity, underscore their significant role in reducing mortality risks and improving overall health. Given that the average diet often falls short in omega-3s, supplementation becomes a practical solution. It offers a reliable means to achieve the necessary daily intake, supporting heart health, cognitive function, and more. 

Reflecting on history, the Vikings offer an illustrative tale. Renowned for their seafaring prowess, these Norsemen consumed a diet rich in fatty fish from the cold northern waters, a natural source of omega-3s. The robust health and formidable endurance attributed to Vikings could perhaps be partly owed to their omega-3-rich diet, unknowingly harnessing the power of these nutrients centuries before modern science provided confirmation. Just as these ancient explorers benefited from their natural environment, modern individuals too can enhance their health through omega-3 supplements, bridging the gap between historical practices and contemporary scientific understanding.












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