Fishing in the Fountain of Youth
Omega-3 fatty acids – fish oils – really do prolong our lives
Each year, 600,000 – or one out of every four – American deaths arise from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
Experts in the nutrition field, with these statistics in mind, say we should be eating more fish.
Most fish (as well as some nuts and oils) contain levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Those are polyunsaturated fatty acids the body needs but cannot synthesize by itself.
Considered “essential fatty acids,” omega-3s have to be ingested for our bodies to work correctly. “Fish oils improve the ability of the heart to keep a normal rhythm,” says Dr. William Harris, a research scientist at Health Diagnostic Laboratory (HDL) in Richmond. Harris specializes in the nutritional and physiological benefits of human consumption of the compound.
Consumed, omega-3s thin the blood, lower blood pressure in high doses, help to cut elevated triglyceride levels (which can lead to heart disease), and are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-blood clotting powers. Also, those taking fish oil supplements after a heart attack significantly cut their risk of having another one. That’s a significant factor: Some 935,000 Americans each year have a heart attack.
Another benefit of eating foods rich in omega-3s, says Harris, is the slowing of the rate of cellular aging – the rate at which a body ages independent of the calendar – since the compound is now known to protect cells by forming part of the cell membrane. That, in turn, protects virtually every organ system in the body – including the brain – helping them function properly.
“Some people age faster – some people age more slowly – and approach their time of death quicker,” Harris says. “Part of it is heart disease, a leading cause of death in the United States. So if you can slow down the rate of heart disease, you can slow down the rate of death.”
Harris notes two studies demonstrating the health benefits of omega-3s. One, a study done in California, found that those with the highest omega-3 levels “had a significantly slower rate of cellular aging” than those with the lowest. The other study, measuring time to death, saw that those with lower omega-3 levels died sooner than those who had higher levels.
DIRECT LINK TO HEALTH
According to Harris, the American diet is considerably lower in the fatty acid than is the Japanese. “And [the Japanese] are coincidentally about the longest-lived population,” he says.
Harris suggests a heightened awareness. “I think an omega-3 test should be part of a doctor’s medical checkup [in the United States],” he says. “When you get your cholesterol checked, you ought to get your omega-3 checked.” Harris created the only test, the omega-3 index, which HDL bought in May 2012. The test measures the amount of omega-3 in the red blood cells. “Our target value for health levels of omega-3s is over eight percent,” he says.
Harris says cholesterol isn’t a very accurate discriminator of who is at risk and who isn’t, and is not the best predictor when it comes to predicting heart disease. “There are just as many people with a normal cholesterol level that have a heart attack as people that have high cholesterol.”
Adding omega-3 is not difficult.
Fatty, cold-water fish (like salmon, anchovies, bluefish, herring, sturgeon, lake trout, mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna) are the best sources of omega-3 for the diet. “Eating fish as a main course twice a week is ideal,” Harris says. “That’s very good for the week.”
Taking fish oil supplements (500 mg) daily is a healthy alternative to eating fish, and vegetarians can get the compound from specially enriched eggs.
Talk to your doctor before taking a fish oil supplement. More informatioIn regarding heart-healthy foods can be found at
Daniel Jones is BOOMER’s staff writer. Contact him at Daniel@TheBoomerMagazine.com.