BARCELONA, Spain — Add oily fish to the dinner menu tonight, especially if you’re looking at add years to your life. A new study finds higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, which fish contain in abundance, contributes to a lifespan about five years longer than the norm.
An international team discovered that just a one-percent increase in omega-3 levels reduces a person’s risk of death as much as quitting smoking. Their study shows measuring these levels in the blood can be an extremely effective tool for calculating life expectancy.
Researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Spain and The Fatty Acid Research Institute in the United States teamed up to examine data from the Framingham Offspring Cohort. This report has been following the residents of one Massachusetts town since 1971. The results show measuring omega-3 levels in red blood cells is on par with measuring smoking habits when it comes to calculating how long someone will live.
“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,” says Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila from the IMIM’s Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group in a media release.
“Being a regular smoker takes 4.7 years off your life expectancy, the same as you gain if you have high levels of omega-3 acids in your blood,” he adds.
Saturated fat is a good thing?
The team analyzed data on blood fatty acid levels in over 2,200 people over the age of 65. The study monitored each person’s health for around 11 years.
Surprisingly, the results show four types of fatty acids contribute positively to human life expectancy — including two saturated fatty acids. Typically, health experts advise people to stay away from saturated fats because of their link for heart disease. However, recent studies are finding that some of these fats can actually help keep people healthy.
“This reaffirms what we have been seeing lately,” Dr. Sala-Vila adds. “Not all saturated fatty acids are necessarily bad.”
“What we have found is not insignificant. It reinforces the idea that small changes in diet in the right direction can have a much more powerful effect than we think, and it is never too late or too early to make these changes,” the researcher concludes.
Study authors are now planning to examine these fatty acids in a larger segment of the population, including European residents. As for consuming more omega-3, the American Heart Association recommends eating oily fish like salmon, anchovies, or sardines twice a week.
The study appears in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.