Omega-3: The Fountain of Youth?

By Paulette Lambert, RD, CDE
Director of Nutrition, California Health & Longevity Institute

With the wide variety of supplements and procedures marketed to make people look and feel younger, you may be wondering if it’s all hype or if science actually endorses any of these options.

There is in fact one supplement that consistently yields positive results for improving health and vitality as well as slowing age-associated diseases: omega-3 fatty acids.

Even better news is that increasing your intake of omega-3s can be as simple as adding a 3.5-ounce portion of fish to your diet two to three times a week or taking a high-quality supplement daily.

Omega-3s, which are essential fatty acids made up of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can be found in fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel. Though there are many other sources of fatty acids in our diet, not all offer the same level of protection as omega-3s. Fatty acids from plant sources, such as soybeans, canola oil, olive oil, and flaxseed oil, have wonderful benefits but contain the less-protective alpha linolenic acid. Though there is much information about the benefits of flaxseed oil in the diet, it is not an adequate source of omega-3s.

A University of California, San Francisco study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2010 reports that omega-3 acids can actually slow the aging process by as much as five years.1 Additionally, studies have shown that taking these fatty acids can decrease age-related diseases such as dementia and macular degeneration.2,3 Preliminary studies indicate that those who suffer from dementia but take omega-3s experience less decline in cognitive ability. Studies such as the Seven Countries Study, the Lyon Diet Heart Study, and some research conducted by the American Heart Association have shown that people who consume fish two to three times per week or who take high-quality omega-3 supplements also have improved general health, less risk of chronic heart disease (CHD), a decline in depression, and show fewer instances of cancer and other diseases associated with inflammation response.4,5 Increased joint flexibility is an added benefit.

Especially effective in lowering the risk of sudden coronary death, foods high in omega-3 or a high-quality supplement are now being recommended by many doctors. Though a standard dose of these essential fatty acids is 500 milligrams (mg) per day, the American Heart Association recommends that those who are at high risk of CHD should consume 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA daily. Any higher dose should be authorized by a physician. It’s no secret that elevated triglyceride levels, independent of other issues or causes, can cause serious heart-health issues. Statins tend to be a regular course of treatment, but studies reported by the Mayo Clinic are now proving that omega-3 fatty acids can lower triglyceride levels by as much as 20 to 50 percent, similar to prescription medications.6 Prescription strength omega-3s may be recommended if triglyceride levels are very high.

How do you know if you need to add omega-3s to your diet? Omega-3s can now be measured with a simple blood test—the HS-Omega3 Index—which can be ordered by a doctor. The target range for good health and disease prevention is 8 percent or higher, and those with a level below 4 percent could be at a higher risk of CHD and other medical concerns. These values are considered independent of other factors such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and family history.

According to the American Heart Association, adequate Omega-3 is encouraged for everyone, which means eating fish two to three times per week or taking an appropriate supplement.7 Rarely do we see the benefits and the positive effects of one supplement shared so broadly across ages, genders, and ethnicities. Combined with a proper diet and exercise routine, the addition of omega-3 to your diet can mean the difference between looking and feeling your age versus living with increased vitality and better health.

Paulette Lambert, RD, CDE, is director of nutrition for California Health & Longevity Institute, located within Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village (www.chli.com). With more than 27 years of private practice after an extensive clinical education, Lambert has wide-ranging experience in clinical nutrition and the development of individualized dietary plans.

references

1. Farzaneh-Far R, Lin J, Epel ES, Harris WS, Blackburn EH, Whooley MA. Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2010;303(3):250-57.

2. Tan JS, Wang JJ, Flood V, Mitchell P. Dietary fatty acids and the 10-year incidence of age-related macular degeneration: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. Archives of Ophthalmology. 2009;127(5):656-65.

3. Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, Bailey-Hall E, Nelson EB, Blackwell A. Results of the MIDAS trial: effects of docosahexaenoic acid on physiological and safety parameters in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. 2009;5(4):P84.

4. Keys A, Menotti A, Karvonen MJ, et al. The diet and 15-year death rate in the Seven Countries Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 1986;124(6):903-15.

5. de Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, Monjaud I, Delaye J, Mamelle N. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation. 1999;99(6):779-85.

6. Mayo Clinic Proceedings Contributors Highlight Research Findings about Cardiovascular Benefits Associated with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2008-rst/4701.html. Accessed June 13, 2011.

7. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp. Accessed June 13, 2011.