Finding ways to hold on to your youth becomes more important the older you get.
The solution to aging isn’t just in increasing the longevity of life but being able to remain healthy and active as you grow older.
One way you can do this is by increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s no coincidence that researchers, doctors, and dietitians are recommending them, particularly for brain and heart health.
Omega-3 and Longevity
Evidence that Omega-3s are important for healthy aging can be seen in a Cardiovascular Health study published in the British Medical Journal.
In this recent study, researchers set out to determine if there was an association between omega-3 levels and healthy aging.
They did this by tracking over 2,600 participants over a span of 23 years, analyzing the omega-3 levels in their blood.
Researchers found that a higher level of DHA and EPA in the body was associated with a higher likelihood of healthy aging. (1)
So, what are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3s are essential fats, which means the body cannot make them on its own. The good thing is these essential fatty acids come from some of the most nutrient-rich foods.
There are three main omega-3 forms that are associated with health benefits. These are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha linolenic acid (ALA).
EPA and DHA are found in seafood, while ALA comes from plant-based foods. (2)
It’s not just the omega-3s that play a role in healthy aging, but the ratio between omega-3 and another fatty acid called omega-6.
While both fatty acids can improve heart health, higher consumption of omega-6 fats is more common (3).
This is because foods containing omega-6s are more abundant in the typical Western diet found in the United States.
Consuming more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats has been linked to inflammation and an increased risk of disease.
This makes the intake of foods rich in the nutrient omega-3 very important.
Here Are 3 Ways Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Extend Your Lifespan
Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
Research shows that omega-3 fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death.
In one particular study, scientific evidence suggested that early intake of as little as 1 gram per day of omega-3s reduced the risk of heart disease by 25%. It also reduced the risk of sudden cardiac death by about 45%. (4)
People who eat fatty fish and other seafood regularly, also have a higher chance of lowering other risk factors for heart disease.
For example, consuming more omega-3s may help lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and raise good cholesterol (HDL).
Reduces Inflammatory Response
Inflammation is a normal defense response that protects the body from infection and other injuries.
However, if inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to cardiovascular disease and other serious health conditions.
Studies indicate that omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and are useful in managing inflammation and auto-immune diseases.
Individuals with Rheumatoid arthritis have seen significant benefits including decreased stiffness and lower use of medications (5).
Improves Cognitive Function
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are important for normal brain function and development. As we age, it is not uncommon to see a decline in cognitive function.
With over 50 million people worldwide currently living with dementia, it makes you wonder what can be done to slow the decline. (6)
Evidence suggests that a healthy diet full of omega-3s may slow the decline and help protect against dementia. (7)
Curious to see if your eating habits are hitting the mark? Here are the seven top omega-3 foods that are good for heart health and healthy aging:
Top 7 Food Sources of Omega-3s
1. Fatty Fish
Fish is a great source of protein and is low in saturated fat.
Fish (particularly oily fish) like albacore tuna, salmon, trout, herring, sardines, and swordfish provide significant amounts of EPA and DHA. Fatty fish also provides good amounts of Vitamin D and selenium.
Along with this variety of fish, mackerel also has a high omega-3 content. However, king mackerel contains a high level of mercury, so pregnant women and young children are advised to avoid this fish. (9)
To get the full benefits of omega-3 fats, the AHA recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish every week. (9)
Shellfish also provides significant amounts of EPA and DHA.
Shrimp, crab, and lobster contain the highest amount of omega-3s of all shellfish. They are also a great source of zinc.
Although not technically considered shellfish, oysters, clams, and scallops are also enjoyed as seafood that have a high omega-3 content. (9)
Walnuts are the only tree nut that are a good source of ALA.
As one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fats, a one-ounce serving of walnuts provides 2.5 grams of ALA. (10) Walnuts are also rich in antioxidants.
Flaxseed is one of the richest plant sources the omega-3 fatty acid ALA.
Known for its nutty flavor, these brown little seeds can be added as an ingredient to practically any food.
Add whole flaxseed to your cereal or trail mix or grind up the flax and add it to baked goods or a smoothie.
Benefits of ALA can be seen with a serving size of 1 Tbsp (7 grams). (11)
These tiny but powerful seeds are also packed with whole grains and are a great source of dietary fiber.
5. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are another great source of ALA. They are also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, protein, and a good source of fiber – which helps with digestion (10).
Like flax, it is a very versatile seed that can be added to just about any whole food. Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt or add them to salads or salad dressings.
Mix it with water and make a chia pudding.
For the benefits of chia seeds, use 1-2 tablespoons.
If you decide to start adding chia and flax seeds to your diet, it is best to add them in small amounts.
Since they are both good sources of fiber, eating too much too quickly can cause stomach discomfort.
Another great plant-based source of omega-3 foods is edamame. They are not only rich in omega-3s but are a great source of plant-based protein. (10)
Boiled or steamed edamame work well in a salad or as a snack or appetizer.
Other soy foods like tofu are a rich source of omega 3. Tofu is made of soybean curds and is a good source of iron and calcium.
Algae and seaweed are important sources of omega-3s, as they are one of the few plant sources that contain DHA and EPA.
Seaweed can be eaten as a salty, crispy snack or as wrap-around sushi. It can also be used for cooking in the form of algae oil.
Algae Oils are a rich source of omega-3 fats. Other oils that have a high omega-3 content are flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, canola oil, and walnut oil. (12)
Omega-3 supplementation has also gained quite a bit of popularity over the past decade. Fish oil pills, made from the tissue of oily fish, also have a high omega-3 content.
Fish oil supplements may be helpful to ensure you are getting an adequate intake of omega-3s, especially if you are vegan or do not consume seafood.
Not all pills and dietary supplements are created equal though, so make sure to look for brands with higher amounts of EPA and DHA.
Supporting bone and joint health, as well as cognitive function, fighting inflammation, and reducing the symptoms of heart disease are all important in the success of healthy aging.
Regularly consuming adequate amounts of foods with omega-3s, especially the ones listed above, is a great way to start ensuring that success.
- Lai H T, de Oliveira Otto M C, Lemaitre R N, McKnight B, Song X, King I B et al. Serial circulating omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and healthy ageing among older adults in the Cardiovascular Health Study: prospective cohort study BMJ 2018; 363 :k4067 doi:10.1136/bmj.k4067
- Omega-3 supplements: In depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3-supplements-in-depth.
- Simopoulos AP. Importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids: Evolutionary aspects. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2003:1-22. doi:10.1159/000073788
- Marchioli R, Barzi F, Bomba E, et al. Early protection against sudden death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids after myocardial infarction: time-course analysis of the results of the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell’Infarto Miocardico (GISSI)-Prevenzione. Circulation. 2002;105(16):1897-1903. doi:10.1161/01.cir.0000014682.14181.f2
- Calder PC. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochem Soc Trans. 2017;45(5):1105-1115. doi:10.1042/BST20160474
- Dementia. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia#:~:text=Worldwide%2C%20around%2050%20million%20people%20have%20dementia%2C%20with%20nearly%2060,is%20between%205%2D8%25. Published September 2020.
- Abubakari AR, Naderali MM, Naderali EK. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and cognitive function: are smaller dosages more beneficial?. Int J Gen Med. 2014;7:463-473. Published 2014 Sep 19. doi:10.2147/IJGM.S67065
- Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids. Published March 23, 2017. eat right .org citation
- The dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/ndep/pdfs/dietary_guidelines_slides.pdf.
- Plant sources of omega-3s. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17651-plant-sources-of-omega-3s.
- Rodriguez-Leyva D, Dupasquier CM, McCullough R, Pierce GN. The cardiovascular effects of flaxseed and its omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. Can J Cardiol. 2010;26(9):489-496. doi:10.1016/s0828-282x(10)70455-4
- Scott D. Doughman, Srirama Krupanidhi, Carani B. Sanjeevi. Omega-3 fatty acids for nutrition and MEDICINE: Considering MICROALGAE oil as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA. Current Diabetes Reviews. 2007;3(3):198-203. doi:10.2174/157339907781368968