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Eating fish for longevity gains support
August 5, 2018, 12:30 pm

Fish forms an important constituent in a nutritious diet as they are rich in high-quality proteins, vitamins and healthful oil. A 16-year study that analyzed health data of nearly half a million men and women now reiterates the health benefits of a diet rich in fish, while also suggesting that it could prolong life.

In recent years, omega-3 found in oily fish has received a great deal of attention from medical researchers and food supplement manufacturers. Scientists have found evidence of omega-3 being associated with lower cancer risk, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced inflammation.

Other studies have linked omega-3 to mental health, aging, and vision.

Recently, a team of researchers in the US set out to gain more clarity on the link between omega-3 and mortality risk. The scientists delved into data from the Diet and Health study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in association with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The data was collected over a period of 16 years from 240,729 men and 180,580 women who provided information about their dietary habits while their health was regularly monitored. Over the course of the study period, 54,230 men and 30,882 women died.

A main takeaway from the study was that consuming more fish and long-chain omega-3s reduces total mortality. Researchers found that men who ate the most fish had a 9 percent lower mortality risk than those who ate the least. When they drilled down into specific causes of death, the researchers found that males who ate the most fish had a 10 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality compared with those who ate the least fish. They also found a 6 percent reduction in cancer mortality, a 20 percent reduction in respiratory disease mortality, and 37 percent reduction in chronic liver disease mortality, between the two groups.

Comparing the highest and lowest fish consumers among female participants, the researchers found an 8 percent reduction in overall mortality, a 10 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality and a 38 percent reduction in Alzheimer's disease mortality. Looking specifically at the level of omega-3 intake calculated from the participants' food intake surveys, the researchers discovered that men and women who consumed the most omega-3 had 15 and 18 percent reductions in cardiovascular mortality, respectively.

However, not all fish was protective. Importantly, these results did not apply to fried fish. Among men, the consumption of fried fish had no impact on mortality risk. Among women, however, higher consumption of fried fish increased the risk of cardiovascular mortality, respiratory disease mortality, and overall mortality. This is probably for a number of reasons. For instance, frying the fish creates trans-fatty acids and also increases the energy density of the end product, both of which could potentially undo any good work that omega-3s carry out.

The study does have some shortfalls, though. For example, it was observational, so it is difficult to tease apart cause and effect. Also, on average, the participants did not consume a great deal of fish when compared with those in other studies. However, the project was large, and the long follow-up duration was key; similarly, there were a relatively high number of deaths, making the analysis more robust. For these reasons, the results provide a welcome boost to the evidence in favor of the protective power of fish-based foods.


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