Research & Education

Support Foundational Health with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Inflammaging” is a term coined to describe how chronic low-grade inflammation may contribute to cellular dysfunction during the natural aging process. Growing research demonstrates the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in potentially attenuating “inflammaging” and promoting foundational health.

EPA and DHA are essential, meaning they must be obtained through diet or supplementation. It is generally accepted that an intake of at least 250 mg per day of EPA/DHA is important for optimal nutrition. To achieve this through diet alone, for instance, an individual must consume fatty fish (a rich source of EPA/DHA) several times per week. According to a global survey, EPA/DHA blood levels are in the low range for most of the world’s population. Moreover, aging is associated with decreased EPA/DHA levels based on reduced absorption, altered omega-3 metabolism, and lower capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Adequate omega-3 intake may help support cognitive health. In fact, DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain. Although there are mixed results, clinical studies suggest that poor omega-3 status is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and potentially neurological disorders. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials confirmed this, concluding that elderly persons consuming omega 3s displayed decreased cognitive decline. Human trials reveal a positive correlation between omega-3 intake and verbal performance and learning ability in elderly populations with a high risk of early cognitive decline.

Yurko-Mauro and colleagues determined that adults consuming more than 1 g per day of DHA/EPA had improved episodic memory, regardless of cognitive status at baseline. In 285 patients with coronary artery disease, which is associated with developing dementia, those taking 3.36 g per day of EPA/DHA for 30 months had significantly enhanced cognitive function compared to a placebo. Omega 3s may also support normal stress responses, but further research is needed.

Interest is growing in the clinical benefit of omega 3s in promoting physical ability and improving the quality of life in older individuals. Omega 3s may support healthy muscle mass and strength and promote muscle protein synthesis, as muscle wasting may be associated with pro-inflammation. Human studies reveal that older women receiving EPA and DHA supplementation had increased walking speed, lean body mass, increased resting metabolic rate, and fat oxidation. Compared to a control group, 29 older men and women supplementing with 1,500 mg per day of DHA and 1,860 mg per day of EPA for 6 months had increased thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, one-repetition muscle strength, and average isokinetic power.

Promising research is continually revealing the foundational health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. For example, omega 3s may also help attenuate “inflammaging” by promoting a healthy gastrointestinal microbial environment and cardiovascular health, as seen in human clinical studies. Omega-3 supplementation may support foundational health through its positive effects on cognitive, muscle, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular health.

By Danielle Moyer, MS, CNS, LDN