Omega-3s, Healthy Aging, and Longevity
We all want to live long, healthy lives and by adding omega-3s to our diets consistently, we may be able to increase the odds that this happens.
Omega-3s are fatty acids that are essential to our health and our bodies cannot produce them, so they must be derived from the diet. These healthy fats are found in both plants (ALA) and marine sources (EPA, DPA, and DHA). The association between omega-3 fatty acids and heart health has long been established by abundant science. Now we have a better idea of how getting enough omega-3s in the diet can promote longevity.
Key Nutrients for Healthy Aging
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that adults with higher levels of marine omega-3s (EPA, DPA, and DHA) had the slowest rate of telomere shortening over five years. Telomeres are the chromosomal tips that protect our DNA from damage. Evidence indicates that telomere length is a marker for biological aging. The longer your telomeres, the younger your biological age.
In 2021, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested omega-3 status and its effect on longevity. The goal of the study was to analyze the lifestyle habits and omega-3 levels of people with heart-health concerns over 11 years to determine the impact on life expectancy. The results of this analysis indicated there is a strong correlation between higher omega-3 levels a longer, healthier life.
Research on omega-3 status and aging is ongoing, and 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. Let’s look at some of the specific benefits below.
Caring for our cardiovascular system 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.
Marine derived omega-3s, whether consumed through fatty fish or through supplementation, beneficially impact these cardioprotective factors. Omega-3s (EPA, DPA and DHA) are associated with improved heart-health outcomes, including hypertension and coronary heart disease.
Maintaining working memory and overall cognitive function is obviously a crucial aspect of longevity, and omega-3s play key roles in supporting brain health. The brain is the fattiest organ in the body and needs fatty acids to function optimally. DHA, the longest chain omega-3,is the most abundant fatty acid found in the brain and is critical for optimal neuronal function and health.
DHA is primarily found in gray matter (the area that processes information) within the brain, and dietary DHA promotes mental acuity and cognitive function in older age. Weekly consumption of two serving of fatty fish (such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines) or more has been shown to increase gray matter in older adults.
Omega-3s may also calm inflammation in the brain which is associated with cognitive decline.
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.
DHA is also 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. Studies show that Individuals who consume diets rich in omega-3s are 25 to 35% less likely to experience age-related vision concerns.
Joint function and comfort
As we age, our joints can become stiffer and less comfortable than they were in our younger years. Omega-3s, specifically marine omega-3s, support antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pathways to improve joint health, comfort, function, and mobility. A 2017 meta-analysis found that, on average, the intake of fish derived omega-3s has a favorable effect in supporting joint comfort.
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for support all areas of our health as we age. Therefore, it is clearly important to consume sufficient quantities of omega-3s in order 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, consuming high levels of wild caught fatty fish is not feasible for many people. Additionally, two fish a week is simply the baseline recommendation. Likely 1 gram or more of EPA and DHA is considered a superior daily dose for cardioprotective benefits. The recommended omega-3 intake to address elevated blood triglycerides in four grams per days. That’s the equivalent of four cans of tuna!
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. Alaskan cod liver oil and salmon oil both offer the additional advantage of containing elevated levels of vitamin D and other helpful nutritional factors. Many expert consider omega-3s and vitamin D to be the two most essential nutrients for promoting healthy aging.