Certain fats in seafood can help keep you healthy for years to come, according to a new study published in the BMJ.
Higher blood levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – healthy fats found in foods such as fish, nuts, leafy vegetables and plant and linseed oils – are associated with a greater chance of healthy aging, according to the observational study. Seafood omega-3 fatty acids seem to have the most impact, says co-author Heidi Lai, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
"There have been studies looking at the relationship between omega and omega-3 fatty acids and some components of healthy aging, but not in combination," Lai wrote in an email to TIME. "Our study contributes to this knowledge gap."
Researchers focused specifically on healthy aging ̵
The researchers studied more than 2,600 older adults who participated in the US Cardiovascular Health Study. The subjects were all healthy when the study started, and their mean age was 74 years. The researchers took blood samples to measure the values of 46 different omega-3 fatty acids at the beginning of the study, six years later and seven years later. Patients also provided information on health and the population at each visit to the clinic and completed detailed questionnaires at the beginning of the study period.
After almost 25 years of follow-up, only 11% of respondents met the definition of healthy aging – and omega-3 fatty acids appeared to play a role in determining who would fit into this category. Compared to people with lower omega-3 levels in the blood, those with the highest levels had an 18% lower risk of unhealthy aging, the study found.
Looking at specific fatty acids, researchers found the most significant reduction in unhealthy aging risk associated with omega-3 fatty acids from seafood, possibly because these compounds have been associated with improving many aspects of health, including cardiovascular and cognitive health , People in the least vulnerable group also reported eating more fish than their peers. They consumed about two servings of fish per week, while people with the lowest omega-3 levels in the seafood boiled about a portion a week.
Herbal sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts and flaxseed are healthy, but Lai says these compounds are "processed differently in the body" than fatty acids in fish and therefore likely to produce different results.
The new study was observational, that is, it can not prove cause and effect. But the results, coupled with other research on the health benefits of seafood and the existing dietary guidelines, suggest that fish should be part of a healthy diet, especially for older adults.