A diet low in Omega-3 from oily fish can reduce life expectancy in the same way as smoking, scientists have warned.
New research reveals that while smoking can shorten your life by up to four years, having low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, typically found in salmon and mackerel, could reduce it by five.
Omega-3 oils carry significant physical benefits including improving cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of blood clots. The beneficial types of Omega 3 present in oily fish include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The Omega-3 Index, which measures a person’s intake of EPA and DHA in the bloodstream, recommends having an index reading of eight per cent or higher to be at a low risk from heart disease. If, for example, a person had 64 fatty acids in a red blood cell membrane and three are EPA and DHA, they would have an Omega-3 Index of 4.6 per cent.
Dr Michael McBurney, of the University of Guelph in Canada and the lead author of the study, said: "It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the mean Omega-3 Index is greater than eight per cent, the expected life span is around five years longer than it is in the United States, where the mean Omega-3 Index is about five per cent.
"Hence, in practice, dietary choices that change the Omega-3 Index may prolong life. Being a current smoker at age 65, is predicted to subtract more than four years of life compared with not smoking, a life-shortening equivalent to having a low vs. a high Omega-3 Index."
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used statistics from the Framingham Heart Study, one of the longest running studies in the world.
The FHS provided unique insights into cardiovascular disease risk factors and developed the Framingham Risk Score based on eight baseline standard risk factors – age, sex, smoking, hypertension treatment, diabetes status, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol.
Researchers in the study also found that measuring fatty acids could predict mortality to a similar standard as other risk factors including blood pressure, smoking and diabetic status.
Co-author Dr Bill Harris, President of the Fatty Acid Research Institute, said: "This speaks to the power of the Omega-3 Index as a risk factor and should be considered just as important as the other established risk factors, and maybe even more so."