We all want to live long, healthy lives, right? Well, it turns out that by adding omega-3s to our diets consistently, we may be able to do just that.
Omega-3s are fatty acids that are essential to our health and are found in both plants (ALA) and marine sources (EPA and DHA). The associations between omega-3 fatty acids and heart health have long been established, but what does getting enough omega-3s have to do with living a long life? Well, research has identified omega-3s as important nutrients for promoting longevity.
What High Omega-3 Levels Mean For Longevity
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that adults with higher levels of marine omega-3s (i.e., EPA and DHA) had the slowest rate of telomere shortening over five years.
What does that mean, exactly? Telomeres are the chromosomal tips that protect our DNA from stressors. Evidence indicates that telomere length is a marker for biological ageing, and the longer your telomeres, the greater your longevity.
This study highlights the importance of increasing your omega-3 index, as it may help you live a longer and healthier life. The omega-3 index is a useful blood test co-invented by William Harris, Ph.D., FAHA, that assesses your omega-3 status. A higher omega-3 index is associated with better heart health and cardio/metabolic parameters.
In 2021, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (and co-authored by Harris) put omega-3 status and longevity to the test. The goal of the study was to analyse the lifestyle habits and omega-3 levels of people with heart-health concerns over 11 years to determine the impact they have on life expectancy. While there were a number of lifestyle factors at play throughout the study that also affect longevity, the results indicated there is in fact a clear correlation between higher omega-3 levels and living long lives.
How Omega-3s Provide Support As We Age
Research on this topic is ongoing, so the exact mechanics behind how omega-3s are affecting longevity are still up for debate. That said, there are a number of well-researched omega-3 benefits that have been proven to support us now and later in life, including heart, brain, eye, and joint health:
1. Heart Health
While heart health is vital throughout our lives, supporting our hearts through diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices becomes increasingly important as we age. When it comes to cardiovascular health, adequate omega-3 levels help support everything from vascular function and healthy inflammatory response to lowering resting heart rate, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels.
Specifically, EPA and DHA, whether consumed through fatty fish or a high-quality fish oil supplement, beneficially modulate these cardio-protective factors and more. Indeed, marine omega-3s EPA and DHA have been linked to better heart-health outcomes, including hypertension and coronary heart disease.†
2. Cognitive Function
Maintaining working memory and overall cognitive function is a crucial aspect of longevity, and omega-3s have their fair share of responsibilities in supporting brain health. The brain is the fattiest organ in the body and needs fatty acids to operate optimally – particularly DHA, which is the most abundant fatty acid found in the brain and helps keep the nervous system in tiptop shape.
DHA is primarily found in gray matter (the area that processes information) within the brain, and dietary DHA -whether consumed through food or supplementation – promotes mental acuity and cognitive function in older age.
In fact, the regular weekly consumption of one serving of fish or more has been shown to increase gray matter in older adults. Oilier fish – such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines – are high in EPA and DHA, which is a likely key player in this gray matter benefit.
3. Eye Health
In addition to its important role in the brain, DHA is also the most abundant fatty acid found in the eyes. DHA is critical for the optimal functioning and regeneration of rhodopsin, a visual pigment that plays a crucial role in converting light to visual images.
As you can imagine, this omega-3 is important to both the growth and development of the eyes early in life, and then later in life too, when maintenance of vision is a vital indicator of longevity. In fact, those who consume diets rich in omega-3s are 25 to 35% less likely to experience age-related vision concerns.
4. Joint Support
As we age, our joints can become stiffer and less comfortable than they were in our younger years. Luckily, omega-3s – specifically marine omega-3s – support anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory pathways to improve joint health, comfort, function, and mobility. A 2017 meta-analysis found that, on average, the use of marine oil supplements (such as fish oil) with EPA + DHA has a favourable effect in supporting joint comfort.
If it isn’t clear by now, omega-3s are superstars at helping us support all areas of our health as we age. However, the true challenge is consuming enough omega-3s to reach an optimal omega-3 status throughout life.
While eating two or more servings of fatty fish each week, per the American Heart Association’s recommendations, is an excellent way to support healthy omega-3 levels, eating that much fish simply isn’t practical (or feasible) for many people.
Furthermore, two fish a week is simply the baseline recommendation – 1 gram or more of EPA and DHA is considered a superior daily dose for cardio-protective benefits (a cornerstone of longevity).
As many of the studies discussed above suggest, taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement daily is an easy and effective way to maintain optimal omega-3 levels.
†Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by lowering blood pressure. However, FDA has concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive. One serving of omega-3 potency+ provides 1.5 grams of EPA and DHA.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.