Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil have been linked to cardiovascular benefits and reduced death from cardiovascular disease. However, there has been no solid data to examine the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and all-cause mortality, until now. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on April 2, 2013 finds that higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are linked with a greatly decreased risk of death from all causes.
The researchers collected blood samples from 2692 adults aged 74 years (+/- 5 years) without cardiovascular disease and analyzed the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. The researchers found that individuals with the highest amount of total omega-3 fatty acids had a 27% reduction in all-cause mortality compared to individuals with the lowest amount of omega-3 fatty acids. This statistic was adjusted for age, sex, education level, physical activity, body mass index, waist circumference, alcohol use and other factors. The researchers estimated that having high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood extended life by 2.2 years. The overall reduction in death was largely due to reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease.
It’s important to remember this is an observational study and does not definitively prove that omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for reducing cardiovascular disease. However, the study did actually measure omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, rather than simply asking participants to estimate their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, the study was very well controlled and the 27% reduction in all-cause mortality strongly argues that the association between omega-3 fatty acids levels and death is more than a coincidence.
The scientific community is still working to determine how omega-3 fatty acids could reduce cardiovascular disease. Benefits shown by in vitro, animal, and controlled human studies indicate omega-3 fatty acids reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure and lower triglyceride production. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are precursors of molecules that are crucial to restoring normal tissue function after injury or inflammation.
Evidence is mounting in favor of increasing dietary consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fatty fish is probably the best way to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but for those who do not like the taste of fish, supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids with fish oil capsules may be advisable. The authors of this study found that individuals faired best when consuming 250-400 mg of EPA plus DHA per day (EPA and DHA are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids).
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