Researchers have found that omega-3 levels in the blood are very good mortality risk predictors from any cause, according to a study involving the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), in collaboration with The Fatty Acid Research Institute in the United States and universities in Canada.
The data for the study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, came from a long-term study group, the Framingham Offspring Cohort, which has been following people of the Massachusetts town since 1971.
Researchers discovered that omega-3 levels in blood erythrocytes (also known as red blood cells) are excellent indicators of mortality risk. Having higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, as a result of routinely adding oily fish in the diet, enhances life expectancy by nearly five years.
“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,” said Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, a postdoctoral researcher in the IMIM’s Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group and author of the study.
The researchers analyzed data on blood fatty acid levels in 2,240 people over the age of 65 who were tracked for an average of eleven years. Beyond the already known factors, the goal was to validate which fatty acids work as good predictors of mortality.
According to the findings, four types of fatty acids, including omega-3, play the role. It’s worth noting that two of them are saturated fatty acids, which have typically been linked to cardiovascular risk but, in this case, have been linked to a higher life expectancy.
These findings could aid in the customization of dietary recommendations for food intake depending on blood concentrations of various fatty acids.
“What we have found is not insignificant. It reinforces the idea that small changes in diet in the right direction can have a much more powerful effect than we think, and it is never too late or too early to make these changes,” remarked Dr. Sala-Vila.
The researchers will now attempt to examine the same markers in a similar population of European heritage to see if the findings can be applied outside of the United States.