Higher serum levels of serum omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) are associated with healthy aging in adults, defined as survival without chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung disease, or severe chronic kidney disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers measured cumulative levels of plasma phospholipid n-3 PUFAs in 2600 older adults at three-time points over a 13-year period and found that higher levels of long-chain n-3 PUFAs were associated with an 18% lower chance of unhealthy aging.

In particular, n-3 PUFAs from seafood, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were associated with healthier aging.

"We found that higher blood levels of omega-3s from seafood were associated with a higher likelihood of healthy aging and also saw that people with the highest blood levels of omega-3s self-reported fish intake of about two servings per week," said lead author Heidi Lai, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston.

Biomarkers Important

"This study supports current national guidelines to consume more seafood. We are living longer but are not necessarily in good health, and the quality of life in old age is deteriorating," Lai said.

"In addition to quality-of-life concerns, longevity without good health increases healthcare costs, so as researchers, we want to start to focus on the quality of life rather than longevity — a concept we call healthy aging, which means survival until death free of chronic disease and cognitive and physical dysfunction," she continued.

"We know that omega-3 PUFAs, mostly found in seafood, are beneficial for heart health, but we know less of their influence on other chronic diseases and healthy aging," she said.

Most previous studies have relied on self-reported dietary questionnaires, with few using biomarkers to provide "a complementary measurement to self-report, with less recall bias and estimation errors," the authors write.

Moreover, biomarkers "greatly facilitate" investigation of the effects of individual n-3 PUFAs, which include long-chain EPA and DHA from seafood, and DPA that has been endogenously metabolized (to a lesser extent, also sourced from seafood). They also include α-linolenic acid from plants. Additionally, all previous biomarker studies have used only one measure of n-3 PUFA at baseline and did not account for trends or changes over time.

The researchers, therefore, used serial measures of n-3 PUFA biomarkers in the Cardiovascular Health Study, a multicenter prospective cohort of older adults in the United States recruited from a random sample of Medicare eligibility rolls, to investigate the association between circulating phospholipid n-3 PUFA levels and the likelihood of healthy aging.