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Key to a Longer Life? Fatty Fish Twice Weekly

Fatty Fish Omega-3
Joe Biafore

Older adults who regularly eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids - primarily oily varieties like salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna and trout - may add years to their lives, as compared with those age 65-plus who don't, new research finds. The fatty-fish eaters may also be able to reduce their chances of dying from heart disease by more than a third.

The study of 2,700 adults age 65 or older found that those who had the highest blood levels of the fatty acids lived an average 2.2 years longer than those who had the lowest levels, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington.

The study specifically measured blood markers for fish consumption; subjects did not take fish oil pills. "This is not a study of fish oil supplements - it's a study of blood omega-3 levels related to diet," Harvard researcher Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., told HealthDay News.

For the study, published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed 16 years of data from generally healthy older adults participating in a long-term federal study of cardiovascular health.

Previous research has showed that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a lower risk of death, especially from heart disease. This study was different, however, in that it didn't rely on what subjects said they ate; it measured their blood biomarkers for fish consumption.

The researchers found that subjects with the highest blood levels of omega-3s reduced their overall risk of death from any cause by up to 27 percent, compared with subjects with the lowest levels. Those with the highest levels also had about a 35 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease.

The study doesn't prove that eating fatty fish will help you live longer - only that there seems to be a connection between the two, as Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston, told HealthDay News. A possible explanation: People who eat more fish also eat other healthy things, such as more fruits and vegetables, which enhances the fish's benefits, she said.

On the other hand, what's the downside of eating a little additional fish and maybe warding off disease? And it doesn't take much to improve your odds. Said Mozaffarian, aim for "about two servings of fatty fish per week."

U.S. News reports that the following fish are both environmentally friendly and high in omega-3 oils: wild salmon from Alaska, arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, sablefish, anchovies, rainbow trout, albacore tuna and Pacific halibut.

Photo: Getty Images


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