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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.