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If you are serious about tackling the effects of growing older, the findings of research from the University of Guelph may cause you to change your approach to nutrition. The new study has revealed how omega-3 fatty acids fight aging and can help ward off disease and both physical and mental impairments associated with advancing age. The omega-3 fatty acids used in the study were those most abundant in fatty fish and typically provided in fish oil supplements: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The researchers set out to see how fish oil supplements containing EPA and DHA impacted changes associated with aging, such as decrease in metabolic rate and muscle mass and increase in body fat, as well as on vital factors, including blood pressure, heart rate, and measures of c-reactive protein, glucose, insulin, and triglycerides. Twenty-four healthy, older women (mean, 66 years) were given either 3 grams of EPA/DHA or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Here’s what they found.
Omega-3 helps burn fat even when you’re not exercising
Women who took the omega-3 supplements burned more fat than did the women who took placebo. In fact, the omega-3 helped burn 19 percent more fat when the women were not exercising. The researchers predicted this would result in about 187 more calories burned per day!
Omega-3 supplements also resulted in 27 percent more fat burned when the women did exercise. In addition, taking omega-3 boosted the women’s overall resting metabolic rate by 14 percent, which means they were burning 14 percent more calories when they were not exercising.
Omega-3 increases lean muscle mass
Women who took omega-3 supplements showed a 4 percent increase in lean muscle mass compared with the women who took placebo. Since lean muscle uses more energy than fat, gaining lean muscle mass allows you to burn more calories, even when you are not exercising. Having more lean muscle mass also can help reduce back pain and pain associated with osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes and gives your body a more toned look.
Omega-3 reduces triglycerides
Intake of omega-3 can cause a significant drop in triglyceride levels. In this study, those levels dropped by 29 percent among participants who took the supplement. This is a significant benefit, since elevated triglycerides, which are type of fat that circulates in the bloodstream, increase your risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart attack.
High triglycerides also can be a sign of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and poorly managed type 2 diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels).
Omega-3 lowers heart rate
The participants showed a significant decline in both resting (3 beats per minute [bpm] drop) and exercising heart rate (2 bpm drop). Even small decreases in heart rate can be important, especially since the belief that a normal heart rate is 60 to 100 bpm has now been modified. In fact, Italian researchers reported that a resting heart rate greater than 70 bpm increase the risk of dying of heart disease by at least 78 percent. The new standard for heart rate is about 50 to 70 bpm, according to Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital. Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids can help contribute to that decline among individuals with higher bpm.
This study suggest that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements is one way to take control of aging and its associated challenges. Another is to increase your intake of fatty fish that are rich in these essential fats, such as sardines, salmon, and tuna, as well as flaxseed, walnuts, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower.