NIH-AARP study finds association between greater fish, omega-3 intake and lower risk of mortality during 16 years of follow-up

August 7, 2018

A study reported on July 18, 2018 in the Journal of Internal Medicine reveals a lower risk of dying from any cause during a 16-year follow-up period among men and women who had a high intake of fish or long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which include EPA, DHA, and DPA.

"The current study is the largest amongst all studies that comprehensively examined intakes of fish and long-chain omega-3 PUFAs in relation to mortality," authors Y. Zhang and colleagues announced.

The investigation included 240,729 men and 180,580 women who enrolled in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study between 1995 and 1996. Questionnaires concerning lifestyle and diet were completed by the participants upon enrollment. Through 2011, 54,230 deaths occurred among the men, and 30,882 deaths occurred among the women.

Among men, those whose daily intake of fish was among the top 20% had a 9% lower risk of dying during follow-up than men whose intake was among the lowest 20%. Women whose consumption of fish was among the highest had a risk of dying during follow-up that was 8% lower than those whose consumption was among the lowest.

For men whose intake of omega-3 fatty acids placed them among the highest 20%, the risk of mortality from any cause was 11% lower than the risk experienced by men whose intake was among the lowest 20%. Similarly, women who were among the top 20% of omega-3 consumers had a 10% lower risk. When the risk of death from specific diseases was analyzed, men who had the highest intake of omega-3s experienced a 15% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and for women in the top group, the risk was 18% lower. Greater omega-3 fatty acid intake was significantly associated with a lower risk of mortality due to respiratory disease and Alzheimer's disease in men and women, and with a lower risk of chronic liver disease and cancer in men. Meeting the recommended intake of at least 250 milligrams of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA per day was associated with a 13% lower risk of mortality among men and a 7% lower risk among women during follow-up in comparison with having an intake that was less than 50 milligrams per day.

"As the associations between long-chain omega-3 PUFAs intake and mortality were similar to that of fish intake, the health benefit of fish is probably related to the abundant content of long-chain omega-3 PUFAs, which possess anti-inflammatory properties and may prevent the development of inflammation-driven disorders, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Zhang and associates observed.

"Overall, we provide new clinical evidence with which to address the role of fish and long-chain omega-3 PUFAs in overall health and contribute to updated dietary guidelines," they concluded.

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