The July Tufts Health Newsletter highlights the latest results from the long running Harvard public health study. According to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the new results were among the first to look at the relationship of Omega-3 levels in the blood stream and overall mortality of older adults.
“The advantages of eating fish are many,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory. “Fish offers omega3 fatty acids and, depending on how it is prepared, is low in calories and saturated fat.” Besides the inherent nutritional positives of fish, she adds, substituting fish (not fried or heavily breaded) for entrées such as steak and quiche pays off doubly.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week, particularly fatty varieties high in omega-3s such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna. A “serving” is 3.5 ounces cooked, or about three-quarter cup of flaked fish.
Now there’s fresh evidence that following that advice can not only reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, but actually help you live longer—especially if you’re already age 65 or older. “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,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health. New findings by Dr. Mozaffarian and colleagues published in Annals of Internal Medicine, he says, “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.”
The researchers examined 16 years of data from about 2,700 US adults age 65 or older who participated in the long-term Cardiovascular Health Study. Participants, average age 74, were generally healthy and did not take fishoil pills. Rather than relying on dietary questionnaires to measure fish consumption, the study took blood samples at baseline to analyze total omega-3s as well as levels of three specific omega-3s found in fish: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid).
Overall, study participants with the highest total omega-3 levels had a 27% lower risk of total mortality due to all causes, and in particular were less likely to die of coronary heart disease and arrhythmia. Those with the most blood omega-3s lived, on average, 2.2 years longer than those with the lowest levels.
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