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Study: To live longer, eat foods rich in omega-3 (but you have to also quit smoking)

Consuming more omega-3s could extend your life expectancy by about 5 years. — Shutterstock pic via AFP

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NEW YORK, July 30 ― The various health benefits of a diet rich in omega-3s have already been widely publicised. A new study suggests that these fatty acids could also add almost five years of life to a person.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has established a link between omega-3 fatty acids and life expectancy, concluding that the presence of high levels of omega-3 in the blood may predict a lower mortality rate in people over 65.

For their research, the scientists analysed the levels of omega-3 in the blood of 2,240 volunteers, aged at least 65 years. The data was collected over 11 years, thanks to the patients’ medical monitoring. Of this panel, 57 per cent were women and 43 per cent were men. During the study period, 384 participants died.

On average, participants with higher levels of these fatty acids lived 4.7 years longer than those without. These extra years of life expectancy, however, were cancelled out in regular smokers. The researchers noted an equivalence between smokers who had a high level of omega-3 in their blood and non-smokers who had a low level of the fatty acids. “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,” explained Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, who worked on the study.

A good level of fatty acid in the blood is around 8 per cent or higher, while a low level is around 3 per cent. “It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the mean Omega-3 Index is greater than 8 per cent, the expected life span is around five years longer than it is in the United States, where the mean Omega-3 Index is about 5 per cent, explains lead researcher Dr. Michael McBurney. “Hence, in practice, dietary choices that change the Omega-3 Index may prolong life.”

What are good sources of omega-3s?

Some foods are richer in omega-3 than others. To help the body assimilate them, it is advisable to consume omega-3 of animal origin. Herring, sardines, tuna and salmon are excellent candidates for providing a daily intake. Flax or rapeseed oil are also rich in omega-3. With a lower content, but easier to incorporate into the diet, green vegetables are a good alternative. As always, the key is to vary your diet. ― ETX Studio

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