by Kim Vega

A long healthy life

Eating fish in old age can extend life

A long healthy life
Eating fish in old age can extend life

Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish and seafood, are good for the heart and reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by up to 35%.

This contributes to an overall decrease in the risk of early death by 27% in older adults and extends life by an average of two years and ten weeks, researchers found.

The link between Omega 3 and heart health is well established, but the new study by experts from the Harvard School of Public Health was the first to examine the direct link between levels of the fatty acids in the blood and death rates.

Researchers studied 16 years' worth of health records for 2,700 healthy adults, all of whom were aged 65 or over and in good health.

The participants regularly gave blood samples, underwent physical examinations and diagnostic tests and answered surveys on their medical history, lifestyle and overall healthy.

Results showed that patients with high levels of three types of Omega 3 fatty acid, either individually or combined, in their blood were much less likely to die prematurely.

One type, known as docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, was linked to a 40% lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease, especially from arrhythmia, or a disturbed heart rhythm

Another type of Omega 3 acid, known as docosapentaenoic acid or DPA, appeared to lower the risk of death from stroke while eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, was linked to a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks.

Overall, patients with the highest levels of all three fatty acid types in their blood were 27% less likely to die early from any cause.

Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, who led the study, said: "Although eating fish has long been considered part of a healthy diet, few studies have assessed blood omega-3 levels and total deaths in older adults.

"Our findings support the importance of adequate blood omega-3 levels for cardiovascular health, and suggest that later in life these benefits could actually extend the years of remaining life."

Examination of the patients' diets revealed that the biggest boost in Omega 3 levels came when moving from a very low intake to about 400mg per day – the equivalent of somebody who never eats oily fish starting to have two portions a week.

Consuming higher amounts of Omega 3 only caused a slight increase in levels of fatty acids in the blood.

Dr Mozaffarian said: "The findings suggest that the biggest bang-for-your-buck is for going from no intake to modest intake, or about two servings of fatty fish per week."

Doctors have previously advised that healthy people should aim to consume 500mg of Omega 3 fish oil per day, and those with heart failure or heart disease should include between 800 and 1,000mg in their daily diet.

Mackerel, tuna and herring are among the best common sources of "good" fatty acids, but they can also be taken as supplements.

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