A diet low in omega-3s from oily fish can decrease life expectancy in the same way as smoking, scientists warned.
New research shows that while smoking can shorten your life by up to four years, low levels of omega-3s, typically found in salmon and mackerel, can be reduced by five years.
Omega-3 oils have significant physical benefits, including improving cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of blood clots. Useful types of omega-3s in oily fish include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The omega-3 index, which measures the absorption of EPA and DHA into the bloodstream, recommends an index value of eight percent or higher for a low risk of heart disease. For example, if a person had 64 fatty acids in a red blood cell membrane and three were EPA and DHA, they would have an omega-3 index of 4.6 percent.
Dr. Michael McBurney of the University of Guelph in Canada and lead author of the study said, “It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the average omega-3 index is over eight percent, the expected lifespan is about five years longer than the United States States where the average omega-3 index is around five percent.
“Therefore, dietary choices that change the omega-3 index can in practice extend life. As a current smoker at age 65, they are predicted to shorten more than four years of life compared to not smoking, which is a life shortening equivalent to an a low vs. high omega-3 index. “
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was based on statistics from the Framingham Heart Study, one of the longest-running studies in the world.
Providing unique insight into cardiovascular disease risk factors, the FHS developed the Framingham Risk Score based on eight basic standard risk factors – age, gender, smoking, hypertension treatment, diabetes status, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol.
The study researchers also found that measuring fatty acids could predict mortality to a similar standard as other risk factors such as blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes status.
Co-author Dr. Bill Harris, President of the Fatty Acid Research Institute, said, “This speaks to the strength of the Omega-3 Index as a risk factor and should be considered as important as the other established risk factors, and maybe more.”