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Taking an Omega 3 supplement could add 5 years to your life - NEW RESEARCH

Taking an Omega 3 supplement could add 5 years to your life - NEW RESEARCH

Nutrition

By Awesome Supplements, Read time: 6 minutes

Bold statement, but new research shows it’s true, increasing your Omega 3 index from 4% to 8% can increase your life expectancy by 5 years! 

Literally, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to improve your longevity is to up your omega 3 intake!

We’ve known for a long time that Omega 3 fatty acids play a number of crucial roles in human health. But recent evidence is showing just how important it is to top up your Omega 3 levels if you want to live a long and healthy life. Having low levels of Omega 3s can be as bad for your health as smoking, according to this new research.

“Low intakes or blood levels of EPA + DHA are independently associated with increased risk of death from coronary heart disease (CHD)”[1]

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) - coronary artery disease, stroke, vascular dementia, etc - are the leading cause of death, worldwide. CVD is responsible for one third of deaths globally. And most instances of CVD are entirely preventable through lifestyle habits.

That means eat a healthy, balanced diet, do more exercise, maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke, reduce your alcohol, get more sleep… AND get more omega 3s!

I think, by now, we all know that smoking is bad for health. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the largest risk factors for CVD - estimated to be responsible for 1 in 4 CVD related deaths.

But this new data is emerging that shows that low levels of Omega 3s can be just as bad for your cardiovascular health as smoking. 

Back in 2004, Dr William Harris, one of the world’s leading experts on Omega 3s, proposed a novel way of measuring omega 3 levels in red blood cells rather than the standard plasma levels. This gives a longer term indication of omega 3 status, as they take time to accumulate in the RBCs, rather than just being a reflection of the previous meal you’ve eaten. This measurement is known as the Omega 3 Index and has been independently validated as a suitable biomarker for identifying levels of EPA and DHA.

In a recent study [2], smokers who had a high omega 3 index had similar life expectancy to non-smokers with low omega 3 index (see graph below). Read that again.

In other words, if you’ve never smoked in your life, but you don’t consume enough omega 3s, you have the same risk of all-cause mortality (early death for any reason) than a smoker who supplements with omega 3s. This highlights just how important these fatty acids are for health and longevity. And, considering the UK average Omega 3 index of 5.58% is well below the recommended 8% level, and even further below the 8-10% average seen in Japan, it demonstrates the scale of the problem here in the UK. Most people need more omega 3s!

So, by increasing your omega 3 index you can significantly reduce the risk of premature death.

What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

The three Omega 3 fatty acids are ALA, DHA and EPA. These polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are considered essential nutrients as the body cannot create them. ALA is a shorter chain PUFA, predominately used as energy. Our bodies can convert ALA to the biologically active longer-chain DHA and EPA. However, the process is inefficient and only a small proportion is successfully converted.

  • ALA is found in seeds and nuts, such as flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. Its main use in the body is as a fuel for energy. A small percentage can be converted to EPA and DHA - but only at approximately 5% conversion rate, so it’s a very poor source of dietary Omega 3.
  • EPA is found mainly in animal products such as oily fish. It is also present in algae. It reduces the risk of blood clots, can help to reduce blood triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels, reduces risk of CVD and is involved in immune health and reduction of inflammation.
  • DHA is also found mainly in oily fish (like salmon, sardines, mackerel) and algae, but can also be found in smaller amounts in meat, eggs and dairy from grass fed animals. DHA has similar benefits to EPA, but is more heavily involved in brain health and seems to have higher antioxidant properties than EPA.

How much do you need?

As we’ve said, most people need more than they’re currently getting. The majority of the population do not consume enough Omega 3s on a daily basis, either from their diet or from poorly dosed supplements.

Omega 3s are so potent at reducing cardiovascular disease risk that US doctors are prescribing supplemental Omega 3s to patients to reduce their risk factors of clogged arteries, vascular inflammation and circulating levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. 

The measurement of Omega 3 levels used by these doctors is called the Omega 3 Index (O3i). This measures the levels of DHA and EPA in the red blood cells and gives a longer term picture of health than standard plasma levels. The amount of Omega 3s required daily to reach the healthy recommendation of 8% on the Omega 3 index is around 1670mg, assuming baseline O3i of 5%, or 2g if your levels are even lower (4% O3i).

Some of this can come from diet. But dosage can vary dramatically depending on type, size and source of fish. On average, a single serving of salmon will contain around 900mg DHA and between 300 and 700mg EPA depending on if it's farmed or wild. 

So you’d need to eat a serving of oily fish everyday to reach sufficient levels of Omega 3 and hit the 8% target.

Should you supplement?

The main problem with obtaining the recommended levels of omega 3s from dietary sources is the health concerns around heavy metal toxicity and PCBs in fish. The current NHS recommendations are to eat at least 2 portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish. This is due to the risk of heavy metals such as mercury, that are leached into the oceans and absorbed by the fish and stored in their oils. 

This information is nuanced and slightly outdated - high Omega 3 fish like salmon have been shown to have protective overall effects. However, other fish may be more of a concern. Swordfish, for example, has high levels of mercury but lower omega 3s, and these fish should be minimised or avoided. However, we would argue that it is still sensible to avoid overconsumption of heavy metal-containing foods if you want to fully optimise your health and well being. Generally, for men, it is considered safe to consume up to 4 portions of oily fish per week, but for premenopausal women (particularly if pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a baby in the future) the NHS advice is to limit it to no more than 2 portions per week. [3]

This is where supplementation comes in. If you are eating a couple of portions of high omega 3 seafood every week, and including nuts and seeds in your diet, you are well on your way to optimal omega 3 levels. But in order to achieve the recommended 2g Omega 3s every day, high quality supplementation is needed for most. 

When looking for an Omega 3 supplement, it is crucial that you use one that has been purified to remove heavy metals. Although Omega 3s have been shown to have some protective effects against heavy metal toxicity, it is wise to try to avoid these contaminants as much as is practically possible to get the full benefits of the Omega 3 dose. Awesome Omega is heavy metal free and provides 330mg EPA and 220mg DHA per capsule. Take 2-3 capsules per day, depending on your needs to hit your body’s requirements of high quality, clean Omega 3 fatty acids.

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