A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports finds that people who eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have greater bacterial diversity in their gut, which promotes better overall health.
Share on PinterestNew research suggests that omega-3 rich foods like fish, garlic, nuts, and flaxseed oil can help keep our intestines healthy.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means that the human body cannot produce them on its own, although we need them to stay healthy. Therefore we have to get them from food.
The benefits of an omega-3-rich diet are well known. The fatty acids appear to lower the “bad” type of cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, and improve overall cardiovascular health.
Some studies have also shown that omega-3s can reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and improve bone strength, as well as protect against age-related cognitive decline and dementia.
And now researchers from the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, in collaboration with scientists from King’s College London – both in the UK – are adding to the long list of omega-3’s benefits.
The new study – led by Dr. Ana Valdes, an associate professor and reader at the University of Nottingham – suggests that the compound can improve gut biodiversity.
Having a gut with rich and diverse bacteria is key to our overall health. As we explain in one of our articles, the 38 trillion bacteria that live in our gut keep our immune system healthy and ready to fight.
Conversely, loss of microbial diversity has been linked to irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer, to name a few conditions.
“The human intestine is receiving a lot of attention in medical research because it is increasingly associated with a variety of health problems,” explains Dr. Valdes.
“Our digestive system has trillions of microbes, most of which are beneficial in that they play important roles in our digestion, immune system, and even in regulating our weight,” she says.
Therefore, Dr. Valdes and colleagues investigated the relationship between the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and the diversity of intestinal bacteria in middle-aged and older women.
The researchers analyzed DHA levels, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, as well as total serum omega-3 levels and microbiome data from 876 twins.
“This cohort of 876 female volunteers was previously used to study the genetic contribution of humans to the gut microbiome in terms of weight gain and disease,” says Dr. Valdes.
The microbiome data were analyzed using the 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid sequencing technique. Omega-3 food intake was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire.
Dr. Valdes summarizes the results and says: “We […] found [that omega-3 intake], along with […] Serum omega-3 levels were strongly linked to the variety and number of types of healthy bacteria in the gut. ”
The association was independent of whether the participants also had a high-fiber diet or not.
The author of the first study, Dr. Cristina Menni of King’s College London added, “We also found that certain bacteria that have been linked to lower inflammation and a lower risk of obesity are increased in people with a higher intake of omega-3s . ”
To understand the mechanism behind this connection, the researchers conducted additional tests and found that “there are high levels of omega-3s in the blood […] correlates with high levels of a compound called N-carbamyl glutamate (NCG) in the gut. “
“[NCG] It has been shown that animals reduce oxidatively stress in the intestine. We believe that some of the good effects of omega-3s in the gut are due to the fact that omega-3s induce bacteria to produce this substance. “
Dr. Cristina Menni
“Our study is the largest to date to examine the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and the composition of the gut microbiome,” says Dr. Valdes.