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Live Longer FIle: Omega-3s Back In The News

There was a time, not too long ago, when clinical researchers were reporting amazing new findings about Omega-3 fatty acids almost weekly. The future looked bright and healthy if we just ate more fish, nuts and seeds. And the Omega-3 news also elevated our awareness of the Mediterranean Diet…

The Mediterranean Diet - © oregonsportsnews.comThe Mediterranean Diet: Heavy on fish and seafood, nuts and seeds,
and other good Omega-3 fatty acid sources…

Well, the Med Diet has its own fan club, now. And most of us who care about what we eat take as gospel the still mounting evidence that Omega-3 fatty acids are an effective defense against heart disease. And researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) in Barcelona, Spain, say that a diet high in Omega-3s can lengthen your life by an average of 5 years.

What they did

The IMIM team consulted the data collected by the Framingham Offspring Cohort ( Massachusetts program that has been monitoring the health parameters and life habits of the town’s residents since 1971) to see if there was a correlation between Omega-3 consumption and longevity.

According to an abstract of the survey findings, The researchers analysed data on blood fatty acid levels in 2,240 people over the age of 65, who were monitored for an average of eleven years. The aim was to validate which fatty acids function as good predictors of mortality, beyond the already known factors.

What they found

The team found that 4 types of fatty acids were helpful in fending off mortality – not the least effective of which were Omega-3s. What researchers did not expect to find was that 2 of the 4 helpful amino acids were from saturated fats.

“This reaffirms what we have been seeing lately,” says Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, a postdoctoral researcher in the IMIM’s Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group and author of the study. “Not all saturated fatty acids are necessarily bad.”

The takeaway

“Having higher levels of these acids in the blood, as a result of regularly including oily fish in the diet, increases life expectancy by almost five years,” Sala-Vila says. “Being a regular smoker takes 4.7 years off your life expectancy, [about] the same as you gain if you have high levels of omega-3 acids in your blood.”

The findings may one day enable doctors to prescribe personalized dietary recommendations for patients based on their specific deficiencies of Omega-3s and excesses of bad fatty acids.

Now, the team is preparing to conduct similar studies of other populations to see if the findings based on the Framingham data in the U.S. can be applied in other countries.

My take

Fatty acid researchers have been beating all around the longevity bush for years, not venturing to address that central issue. But now, the IMIM team has opened a door to the question of whether Omega-3 fatty acids can finally be associated directly with longer life. And the answer is ‘Yes’.

Though we can all act now, without a great deal of effort or expense, to improve our Omega-3 intake, I predict most folks won’t. It’s human nature. And it’s not the only recent example of how people tend to take their health for granted.

Back in June, we looked at a study which decisively concluded that simply increasing our fresh fruit consumption could significantly reduce our risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Who wouldn’t go right ahead and start eating more fresh fruit if it could help them avoid one of modern society’s worst scourges? I predicted ‘a lot of people’. They just won’t bother.

It’s the health and medical sphere expression of the same principle of human behaviour that results in folks not installing a security alarm system in their homes until they’ve had a break-in. My Mom calls it, “Closing the barn door after the horse has fled.”

Will we ever learn?

~ Maggie J.