Students taking nutrition courses have likely heard about omega-3 fatty acids, particularly as they’ve been said to play a key role in our diet. Understanding the impact of these fatty acids on our overall health and wellbeing is incredibly important, allowing us to promote healthy eating habits that encourage healthy aging.
Omega-3 can typically be found in fatty fish, fish oil, oysters, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, to name a few sources. These foods have been known to provide us with a variety of health benefits, often attributed to their high omega-3 content. But can they also promote healthy aging?
Keep reading to find out more about omega 3’s impact on our health and to discover research that reveals interesting insights into its influence on the aging process!
Understanding the Role of Omega-3 in Our Diets
In order to properly evaluate the role of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets, we need to first understand the different types available in our foods. There are three important types of omega-3 fatty acids, two of which can be easily found in oily fish—like sardines, mackerel, and salmon. Those are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The last type, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can be found in plant-based foods, like flax seeds and soybeans.
A recent study involving 8,000 patients with high cardiovascular risk revealed that taking purified EPA supplements helped reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes, while also reducing death and the need for heart stents (surgical procedure to open clogged arteries).
That said, another study with over 13,000 participants introduced a combination of both EPA and DHA supplements to one group, while another took the placebo. Here, there were no differences between the two groups—indicating that further studies are needed to fully understand the impact of Omega-3 on different aspects of our health.
What Studies Reveal About Omega-3 and Healthy Aging
Those studying nutrition in aging will be interested to know how Omega-3 specifically impacts the aging process. A 2018 study investigates this link by enrolling 2622 adults, aged 74 years old on average, and testing their omega-3 blood levels after six years, and again 13 years later. Researchers considered EPA and DHA levels while also including ALA and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA).
The findings revealed that those who consumed higher levels of seafood-based omega-3s, EPAs, and DPAs, were more likely to age healthfully than the others. This study is particularly notable as it sheds light on the quality of life associated with omega-3 consumption over a long period of time, defining “healthy aging” by the following factors:
- Absence of chronic diseases
- Lack of cognitive and physical dysfunction
- Death caused by other unhealthy aging outcomes for 65 year-olds and older
In this case, researches support nutritional guidelines for older adults, recommending fish and omega-3 fatty acids.
Notable Considerations for Those Studying Nutrition in Aging
As previously discussed, studies on this topic are inconsistent—making it difficult to arrive to definitive conclusions. For this reason, it is advisable that students earning a certificate in nutrition stay up to date on the latest guidelines concerning healthy eating habits for all ages.
Those working with seniors can consider each client’s individual case and work towards developing beneficial diets that directly improve their personal lifestyle and health conditions. That said, students can keep the following points in mind:
- Avoiding fish high in mercury (i.e. shark or king mackerel) when recommending seafood
- Considering potential nutritional deficiency, caused by lower food intake or reduced nutrient absorption in seniors
In doing so, you can provide personalized care tailored to your clients’ needs and lifestyle goals, encouraging healthy eating habits that simultaneously promote healthy aging.
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