Heart of the ocean

Fish oil is the unsung hero of the nutritional supplement industry.

Yes, everyone knows about it. And most people know they should be taking it.

But the newest, most trendy supplements keep stealing all the omega-3 thunder. Even when they don’t have any research to support them. All because Dr. Oz mentioned them on his show once. (I’m looking at you, açaí berry.)

So I consider it my duty to step in and pick up the slack. Fish oil may not be exciting. But the benefits it has to offer your health most certainly are.

It’s also got science on its side. Lots of it. And I’m happy to report that there’s another great new study to add to this ever-growing body of research.

This new analysis followed more than 2,500 older adults without heart disease or stroke history. And it found that subjects with the highest levels of omega-3s had a 27 percent lower risk of dying by any cause than those with the lowest omega-3 levels.

Not surprisingly, heart-related deaths declined the most. Especially deaths linked to arrhythmia, which were cut nearly in half.

The researchers were also able to estimate the years of life that omega-3s saved. In this population, the group with the highest plasma levels of omega-3s enjoyed 2.2 extra years over the age of 65 than the lowest plasma-level group.

Let me put that another way. You can add two years to your life–without any side effects– just by taking fish oil.

Where heart disease and arrhythmia risk were concerned, the researchers observed the greatest benefit among subjects with the highest levels of total omega-3s. But they also noted an advantage among subjects with high levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as opposed to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Some might call this finding paradoxical. Especially since studies have linked DHA supplementation with higher increases in LDL cholesterol.

But that’s assuming that cholesterol plays any significant role in heart disease in the first place. (As you may know, I have a very different opinion on that subject.)

And besides, when omega-3s raise LDL cholesterol, it’s actually a good thing. These good fats make LDL particles larger and less dense. And that, in turn, makes them less harmful to your arteries.

In any event, this is why I’m always telling you how important it is to make sure your fish oil contains high concentrations of DHA and EPA.

There are tons of inferior products on the market that claim to have 2 or even 3 grams of fish oil per capsule. But when you check the nutrition facts, you’ll notice that not much of it is actually coming from EPA or DHA.

For the record, I always recommend 3 grams of EPA/DHA per day for my patients. It’s the only way to guarantee any clinically proven benefits.

Of course, this was an observational study–so the authors were quick to point out that it doesn’t prove cause and effect.

Still, no matter who may want to criticize the conclusions here, there’s no denying the fact that high levels of omega-3s have a direct impact on longevity. And they play a key role in preventing heart disease death and arrhythmia, in particular.

But try telling that to the FDA, who won’t even let supplement companies include these facts on the bottles of fish oil they sell. (At least, not in straightforward terms that tell the whole story.)

Well, these companies may not be able to tell it like it is. But I can. And I will.

If fish oils can do all this, then guess what? They are far superior to statin medications in every conceivable way.

And that’s the honest-to-goodness truth.

“Plasma phospholipid long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and total and cause-specific mortality in older adults. A cohort study.” Ann Intern Med 2013; 158:515-525.