A look back at literature through the ages will show that people have long been searching for the fountain of youth. However, what if the fountain of youth isn’t a place, but instead what is on our plates? The food that we consume has the power to nourish, strengthen, and fight oxidative stress. Recent studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, show promise when it comes to helping people live longer lives. Discover what omega-3 fatty acids are, why they might be the key to longevity, and how they play into the lifestyle of centenarians.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Occurring widely in nature, omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in certain foods and dietary supplements like fish oil. These fatty acids are important parts of the membranes that surround cells in the body, including those in the eyes and brain. Furthermore, they serve vital functions in the immune system and endocrine system, as well as in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The three main¹ omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
While ALA is mostly found in plant oils, EPA and DHA occur mainly in fish, seafood, and eggs.
Which foods contain omega-3s?
Because ALA is an essential fatty acid, the body cannot make it, and therefore, it must be consumed. Although the body can convert ALA acid into EPA and later into DHA, this is done on such a small scale that it is better to consume foods with these fatty acids to increase their levels. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fish (Salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, etc.)
- Seeds (Chia seeds, flaxseed, etc.)
- Plant Oils (Soybean, flaxseed, canola, etc.)
- Fortified foods
The daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids varies depending on age and sex. For instance, a one-year-old child might need to consume 0.7 grams¹ a day, whereas an adult man should consume 1.6 grams. Regardless, health experts have yet to establish recommended amounts for daily intake of omega-3s.
Can omega-3 fatty acids increase your lifespan?
A recently published study tracked people over 11 years, analyzing their blood to see if omega-3s played a role in their life expectancy². The study divided participants into smokers, smokers, low omega-3 levels, and high omega-3 levels. Based on the data, people who had high omega-3 levels and did not smoke had the highest survival rate. Furthermore, Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila noted that people with higher levels of these fatty acids in their blood have an increased life expectancy of 5 years². Yet, it is crucial to add that the scientists put limitations on their findings, stating that omega-3s are associated with longevity, but may not be the most important factor for predicting risk for death.
Lifestyle and longevity in Sardinia
Granted that while food plays a significant role in how long we live, there are other variables to consider. Take the Italian island of Sardinia, which attracted the attention of the world over twenty years ago when it was found to have a large concentration of centenarians. The low immigration rate and uniform lifestyle of the island made it easy to study traits linked to extreme longevity³. In Sardinia, the local diet varies from town to town but is mainly composed of beans, greens, and whole grains⁴, as well as some bread, meat, and cheese. Pecorino cheese, the local favorite, is high in omega-3s⁵, although dairy only takes up about a quarter of the Sardinian diet.
Less stress and a longer life
As the first Blue Zone region identified⁵, Sardinia serves as a model for longevity, offering valuable tips on how to live better, not only longer. Eating fresh, local, and nutrient-rich food plus consuming omega-3s regularly is essential to boosting longevity. Nonetheless, research shows that reducing stress, exercising often, and dedicating time to family and friends also impact life expectancy. Of course, there is no magical diet to help you live 100 years; however, putting the right food on your plate and the right attitude in your mind are great places to start.
- “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/.
- Watts, Erika. “Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Increase Life Expectancy?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 27 July 2021, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/omega-3-levels-in-the-blood-may-boost-lifespan#The-new-omega-3-study.
- Deiana, L., et al. “AKEntAnnos. the Sardinia Study of Extreme Longevity.” Aging (Milan, Italy), U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10476308/.
- Spector, Nicole. “What the ‘BLUE Zone’ Island of SARDINIA Can Teach Us about Living Longer.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 10 June 2019, www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/what-blue-zone-island-sardinia-can-teach-us-about-living-ncna1011051.
- “Sardinia, Italy.” Blue Zones, Blue Zones, LLC., 4 May 2021, www.bluezones.com/exploration/sardinia-italy/.