Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Enhance Longevity?

The family of omega-3 fatty acids, inducing ALA, EPA, and DHA, is an integral part of a healthy diet. These essential fatty acids are converted from food sources in the human body.

Incorporating these polyunsaturated fatty acids into daily nutrition can bring potential benefits such as enhancing longevity, reducing aging, or decreasing the risk of chronic cardiovascular or inflammatory diseases. Therefore, it is vital to source them from foods such as seeds, nuts, green vegetables, or fatty fish.

Types and sources of omega-3s

Omega-3 is an important essential element of a healthy diet. Omega-3 includes three main types of fatty acids: ALA, DHA, and EPA. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential for cells in the body, helping them to function properly. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in plant sources. It is the only omega-3 our body cannot produce and must be obtained from food.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that can be made in our body from ALA. The human body converts ALA to EPA, which is further converted into DHA. The ability to synthesize these two from ALA is relatively low. Studies suggest that only 2–10% of ALA is converted, which means that for every 2,000 mg of digested ALA, the body will produce a maximum of 200 mg of EPA and DHA. Therefore, individuals who aim to increase their omega-3 levels should follow an appropriate diet covering the demand for DHA and EPA.

ALA is primarily obtained from plant sources, while EPA and DHA are mainly found in marine sources. Foods with high levels of ALA include walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin, hemp, broccoli, green peas, and spinach. The main dietary sources of DHA and EPA acids are fish oil, salmon, herring, sole, cod, algae, and other seafood.

Omega-3 fatty acids and longevity

Over the years, the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively studied in multiple clinical trials and observational studies involving thousands of participants. The research has covered the impact of consuming these fatty acids on mortality rates, the risk of developing chronic diseases, and the slowing of the skin's aging process.

One of the benefits of consuming omega-3 is that it can potentially extend the life span. Researchers from Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and the Fatty Acid Research Institute in the U.S. analyzed data on the omega-3 index in 2,240 people over the age of 65 who were monitored for an average of eleven years. The results have shown that high levels of these acids in the blood are associated with longer life expectancy.

Recently, a meta-analysis of 38 randomized controlled trials with over 100,000 participants has shown that high blood levels of DHA were associated with a risk reduction in all-cause mortality rate, supporting the claim that marine-sourced fatty acids may support cardiovascular health and could be associated with longer lifespan.

While aging is an incredibly complicated process, omega-3 can potentially slow it down. A meta-analysis of the studies compared the effect of consuming these fatty acids on telomeres — the biological clock of the body’s DNA, which shortens in parallel with aging. While not all the results are consistent, most of them have shown that high omega-3 levels can positively influence telomere lengths. Omega-3 might also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which are processes often associated with aging.

Implementing omega-3 into the diet might also reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease or kidney disease. They may even reduce the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL), the main culprit behind many cardiovascular diseases. Omega-3 can potentially reduce the risk of chronic kidney disease. The analysis of 19 studies conducted in 12 countries and involving over 25,000 participants has shown that higher levels of omega-3 derived from fish and seafood are associated with an 8% lower risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

Incorporating omega-3 into your diet

Individuals aiming to increase low omega-3 levels can follow these five simple dietary practices:

  1. Add flaxseed or chia seeds to your meals. Both are rich in ALA and suitable for vegetarians and vegans. You can add these ingredients to your morning smoothie, sprinkle them over yogurt, or incorporate them into your salad.
  2. Eat more leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Accompany your meals with kale, spinach, or Brussels sprouts, which are nutrient-dense foods also rich in omega-3.
  3. Include two servings of fatty fish per week. If you do not follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, aim to consume two servings of salmon, mackerel, sardines, or other seafood to enhance the levels of EPA and DHA.
  4. Use vegetable oils for your cooking. Opt for cooking with oils rich in ALA, such as flaxseed oil, walnut oil, canola oil, or soybean oil.
  5. Increase your nut intake. Nuts, especially walnuts, are good sources of omega-3. You can eat nuts as a snack or use 100% nut butter as a spread.

The recommended daily allowances of omega-3 differ depending on age and other health conditions. Individuals seeking to increase their omega-3 index should consult with healthcare professionals to determine the optimal intake of fatty acids and a well-balanced diet.

The National Academy of Medicine recommends an intake of 1.6 g of omega-3 for adult men and 1.1 g for adult women. These values should be increased to 1.4 g during pregnancy and 1.3 g during lactation. The values for infants and children vary depending on the age.

Should you take omega-3 for longevity?

Omega-3 fatty acids play a pivotal role in promoting health and longevity. Regular consumption of fatty acids, sources from seeds, nuts, or fish, might help enhance life span, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and slow down the aging process.

Incorporating ALA, EPA, and DHA into your diet might bring health benefits and enhance overall well-being. Consult a healthcare professional to tailor a diet to your dietary needs and health conditions and aim to combine it with other beneficial practices such as exercise.

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