Key to longer life

Copper River health food fresh on the barbeque/Craig Medred photo

Summer is here; the salmon are running in Alaska; and the latest research indicates eating more of them could add years to your life.

Scientists mining the data from the long-running Framingham heart study have connected diets high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids to an overall longer life.

The latest study follows on earlier discoveries that omega-3s massively reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), the globe’s number one killer.

An estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs in 2019, representing 32 percent of all global deaths,” according to the World Health Organization. “Of these deaths, 85 percent were due to heart attack and stroke.”

That’s near 10 times as many people as the WHO estimates were killed by the pandemic disease COVID-19 last year, and a significant number of pandemic victims were already suffering from CVDs that make them far more susceptible to death after being infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Western countries with high rates of CVD have been especially hard hit. Italy, which is reported to have a CVD rate about twice the global average, has suffered COVID-19 deaths at the rate of 211 per 100,000, according to the Worldometer tracker.

Japan, which has a CVD rate only about 60 percent that of Italy, has a COVID-19 death rate of about 12 per 100,000. The low CVD rate in Japan has been widely attributed to a fish-rich diet.

University of South Dakota researcher William S. Harris noted this distinction in a 2008, peer-reviewed study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that reported “when (research) subjects were classified into categories of increasing fish consumption (less than one per month, one to three per month, 3 one per week, two to four per week and five or more per week), those in the highest intake group showed a 40 percent reduction in risk,’

Harris this year joined researchers from the Tufts, Boston and Guelph universities plus Spain’s Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in reporting even broader positive health implications for the consumption of foods high in omega-3s.

They went so far as to suggest physicians could use the concentration of omega-3s in the blood of patients to judge their risks of death.


The study has been getting a lot of attention in the medical community.

“Low Omega-3 Index is just as powerful in predicting early death as smoking,” News Medical headlined last week. 

Medical Xpress called the research a “landmark finding” building on the “Framingham Risk Score based on eight baseline standard risk factors – age, sex, smoking, hypertension treatment, diabetes status, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol (TC), and HDL cholesterol.”

The suggestion was that low omega-3 levels can now be added to the list of risk factors.

“It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the mean omega-3 index is greater than 8 percent, the expected life span is around five years longer than it is in the United States, where the mean omega-3 index is about 5 percent,” Dr. Michael McBurney from the University of Guelph in Canada and the lead researcher on the new study told the website. “Hence, in practice, dietary choices that change the omega-3 index may prolong life.

“In the final combined model, smoking and the omega-3 index seem to be the most easily modified risk factors. 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 versus high omega-3 index.”

Salmon are, of course, among the foods richest in Omega 3s.

At an average of more than 4,123 milligrams per serving, according to the Healthline website, the fish are about 35 percent richer in omega-3s than the cod liver oil with which some parents used to dose their children.

Better  choice

And salmon tastes a lot better.

“Ask a group of senior citizens about their experience with cod liver oil and you are likely to see them wrinkling their noses at the distasteful memory,” writes Joe Graedon at The People’s Pharmacy. “People of a certain age were frequently dosed as children with cod liver oil in the wintertime.

“Going back hundreds of years, mothers in northern climates such as Norway, Sweden and Scotland relied on cod liver oil to keep their families healthy when the weather turned bleak. They may not have understood why this foul-tasting oily liquid seemed to be beneficial, but their powers of observation told them that children given cod liver oil were less susceptible to colds and flu.”

The mothers appear to have been well ahead of modern science.

They also sent their children outside to play which helped to ensure a daily dose of heart-healthy exercise, which is also protective against early death, CVD and a variety of diseases including COVID-19. Anyone can catch the pandemic disease, but the fat and out-of-shape are at greater risk of suffering seriously from it or dying, according to a variety of studies.

Patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive had a better than two times greater chance of hospitalization, a nearly two times greater chance of ending up in intensive care, and a nearly two and half times greater chance of death “than patients who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines,” researchers reported in a peer-reviewed study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine back in April.

To date, it would appear no researchers have looked directly at omega-3 levels as they relate to COVID-19 mortality, but it might be interesting if they did.

The state of Alaska is still trying to determine the average fish consumption rate of 49th state residents, but there are indications it is well above the national average.

Meanwhile, the state’s COVID-19 case fatality rate has been documented as well below the national average of 186 deaths per 100,000 people.

As of this writing, Alaska a COVID-19 death rate of 50 per 100,000 people despite an infection rate of more than 9,300 per 100,000, according to the Worldometer tracker.

West Virginia has a similar infection rate at 9,149 per 100,000, but that state has witnessed more than three times as many deaths on a per capita basis. The same is pretty much true of every state in the range of 9,000 to 10,000 infections per 100,000.

Why Alaska has faired so well in the pandemic is at this time a mystery.







8 replies »

  1. “They also sent their children outside to play which helped to ensure a daily dose of heart-healthy exercise…”
    Going outside for exercise also gives the body a good dose of Vitamin D which many people in northern climates lack throughout the year.
    The new Peloton fitness craze puts people inside to exercise in front of digital screens which is not the healthiest way to live.
    Just remember than a 6oz Salmon steak has around the same amount of cholesterol as a 6oz Beef steak so Omega 3 is not the only thing the body gets from Salmon.
    Overall, a plant based diet is much more healthy since it provides all the nutrients you need along with much more fiber than a traditional standard American diet…as well as no cholesterol to clog your veins.
    A standard head of lettuce contains all the anti-oxidants your body could ever need…eating a fresh salad ever day is one of the best things you can do to extend your life.

    • “Cholesterol is vitally important for brain function. While your brain represents about 2-3% of your total body weight, 25% of the cholesterol in your body is found in your brain, where it plays important roles in such things as membrane function, acts as an antioxidant, and serves as the raw material from which we are able to make things like progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, testosterone and even vitamin D.

      In fact, in a recent study available on the NIH Public Access site, researchers showed that in the elderly, the best memory function was observed in those with the highest levels of cholesterol. Low cholesterol is associated with an increased risk for depression and even death.

      This understanding of the important role of cholesterol in brain function raises concern as we now see changes in recommendations for prescribing statin medication. Some estimates indicate that moving forward, the number of individuals taking statins to lower cholesterol in America may actually double! This presents a worrisome proposition for brain health.”

  2. Craig, left part of the sentence out: Besides walking great lengths daily, all three had a great sense of humor, an optimistic outlook on life, and spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors.

  3. I had two elderly friends in Alaska and one in Pennsylvania who were unlikely candidates to live into their late 90s. The two in Alaska had heart attacks; one in his mid fifties, the other at 63. Their parents died early, one’s in their early 40s, the other’s in their 50s. The one in Pennsylvania, a retird coal miner with black lung, also had a heart attack in his early 60s. I have no knowledge of his parents’ ages of death, These men had several things in common, including heart attacks and living into their late 90s.

    The coal miner(Wally) forced to retire due to black lung, had chewed snuff from the time he was 13 years old until he died at 97. He frequented “Greasy Spoons” and his diet would make a heart doctor cringe. He also was known to drink a beer or two.

    The man who had his heart attack in his 50s(Mike) was told to go home and get his affairs in order as the writing was on the wall. I have no knowledge of his long term diet other than when I knew him he also frequented “Greasy Spoons”.

    The other Alaskan(Vince), who had his heart attack at 63, also frequented “Greasy Spoons”, but neither drank or smoked(however his wife smoked like a chimney so second hand smoke was likely). He also attended church daily after retirement, which some studies indicate may add to longevity.

    Now, to the point. When Mike was sent home “to die”, he looked around and became angry. The first morning, he walked half a block; that night, a block in the opposite direction. He said it seemed too far to make it back to the house, but he succeeded. Each morning and night he tried to walk a little farther in each direction. Eventually, he was walking 3 miles one way and back in one direction and an equal amount in the other direction in the evenings. Six months later he went to a scheduled appointment with his doctor. The doctor was amazed. He basically asked Mike what happened and Mike said, “I’ll tel you what, I got pissed of at you for telling me to go home and die!”.

    Mike, Wally, and Vince walked extensively daily. Wally and Vince, though strangers living 4,300 apart, both had the same beige, Montgomery Wards, 1950s encercise bike they used when it rained and during the winter. Vince also had a treadmill and over 20 stair steps from his shop to his living area which he climbed several times a day.

    Besides walking great lengths daily, all three had a great sense of humor, an optimistic outlook on life.

    Wally and Mike died at 97; Vince, 25 days short of 99. There are lessons to be learned from their lives…..

  4. Awesome article. I will up my salmon and exercise immediately. Ive been a salmon eater since i was a pup . Wild Alaska salmon. One of highest sources of omega 3s . Thanks for great information!

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