My area of expertise is within the domain of healthy longevity; how to keep people healthy, longer. With this in mind, omega-3s are a must. They are important as much for the proper functioning of our cells, as for the proper functioning of the immune system along with all the implications of inflammation. Therefore, I’ll discuss the link between omega-3s and longevity, highlighting a few recent studies and meta-analyses that support a number of benefits. Let’s talk a bit about longevity before we go any further and we’ll come back to the definition of omega-3s, dietary intake, and therapeutic dosages in more detail.

The first indication of longevity comes from telomeres; these are very reliable indicators of the useful life of our cells. The healthier we are, the longer our telomeres. A recent study has shown that the consumption of omega-3 for 3 to 6 months reduces the natural shortening of telomeres and thus tells us that our cells are healthier. This is indirect evidence of their effects on longevity. Other studies point in the same direction. In China, a study demonstrated a link between the frequency of fish consumption and longevity: 3 to 10 servings per month for people living by the sea vs. 1 serving or less, for those living far away. This consumption, which is indirectly responsible for the consumption of omega-3, significantly affected the longevity of the population under study.

If we now look at the processes of aging, my personal field of research, another recent study focused on the possible mechanisms of action of omega-3s on their preventive effects on aging. The consumption of omega-3 reduced certain impacts of aging, but also, even certain processes with regards to cellular aging by the modification of the expression of genes. The consumption of omega-3 positively influences the expression of our genetics. These genes, linked to the intake of omega-3, slows down the aging process. The composition of the microbiota influences this beneficial effect (which underlines the importance of always thinking about health in a global way even if science tends to isolate the parameters to study their causal effects).

In addition to longevity in general, the impacts of omega-3s on depression, hypertension, or inflammation are also very well documented, that which we will revisit later. Now let’s discuss what omega-3s are comprised of.


A brief chemistry overview regarding these good fats

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids, much like omega-6s. It is a fat, a lipid, with a polar head (soluble in water) composed of an acid group and a hydrophobic tail of carbon molecules (insoluble in water). This polarity ensures that they compose the lipid bilayer of cell membranes with the hydrophobic tail facing toward the center of the membrane. The position of their double bond, called unsaturation, causes a bend in this tail that prevents the molecules from stacking easily. When fats pile up, it causes stiffness, as oils ferment at room temperature (hence the industrial processes to create trans fats which are oils fermented at room temperature).

The presence of omega-3s in cell membranes thus ensures their fluidity and this allows the addition of membrane receptors, transport channels, and other proteins essential to the proper functioning of cells. This is called membrane fluidity. Poor fluidity = poor functioning of the cells. You can therefore easily understand that omega-3s are essential for the proper functioning of all cells in the human body and therefore, that they are of paramount importance in the maintenance of good health and longevity.

Additionally, they are involved in all inflammatory processes. Inflammation is essential for life and the molecules that cause inflammation are produced from omega-6s, while those that reduce inflammation once it is no longer needed are derived from omega-3. If the body contains too many omega-6s compared to omega-3s, the cells will function less well, the inflammation will last too long or be caused too easily, and this will increase the risks of a large number of diseases in addition to accelerating the development of the majority of those associated with aging.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, fats have been demonized, all the while increasing the harmful consumption of carbohydrates. It’s true that some fats can be unhealthy like the trans fats mentioned earlier, but this negative-focused mindset has misguided attention away from the importance of good fats and omega-6/omega-3 ratios in the diet. Recent studies have estimated that this ratio is generally 20:1 to 50:1 in North America, whereas it should be around 4:1 for good health.


Diet and omega-3s

We must therefore consume more omega-3 and also, I would like to emphasize, fewer omega-6s. There are two ways to improve the ratio: reduce omega-6s and increase omega-3s. For people who currently have ratios of 50:1, just increasing the omega-3 intake probably won’t be enough. It is also necessary to reduce the omega-6s which are present in large quantities in vegetable oils, frying, “unhealthy food” as my friend Jean-Yves Dionne puts it so well, and cold cuts. Meat in general also contains it but in less quantities.

When it comes to omega-3s, the recommendations are simple: eat fish and take supplements. Plant sources, such as flaxseed, contain a form of omega-3 (ALA: alpha-linolenic acid) which is not used by the human body for cell membranes and must be converted into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The conversion rate is very low (around 1 to 5%). ALA is an 18-carbon chain that must be extended by 2 carbons to make EPA (about 5% conversion) or 4 carbons to make DHA (about 1% conversion). Thus, good food sources include salmon, sardines, and mackerel (fatty fish) for which a reasonable portion can contain 1500 to 3000 mg of omega-3. The usual dietary recommendations are 3 portions of oily fish per week which give an average of about 1100 mg/day of omega-3. Is it sufficient?


Therapeutic dosages

Do we all need a therapeutic dose? We could say that there is a difference between the basic doses of omega-3 consumption and therapeutic use. However, for what reasons do you consider your omega-3 intake? If these are reasons related to clinical demonstrations carried out with therapeutic dosages, it is because you must take enough of them to allow these positive impacts.

The World Health Organization recommends a daily dose of 1000 mg of omega-3 which corresponds to about three portions of oily fish per week. Therapeutic dosages are those used to optimize omega-3 intake for the purpose of restoring or assisting a health condition. They are defined as greater than or equal to 1800 mg of omega-3/day and clinical studies often use 2000 to 4000 mg/day of omega-3. Here are 3 examples:


  • HYPERTENSION: Meta-analysis of 71 clinical trials, nearly 5000 people (Zhang et al., 2022):
    • Significant benefits between 2000 to 3000 mg/d,
    • Benefits greater with more than 3000 mg/d,
    • Benefits reach a threshold at 5000 mg/d
    • Taken through food or supplements.


  • DEPRESSION: 26 clinical studies, 2160 participants: therapeutic effect on improving depression (Liao et al., 2021). Significant effects on symptoms of depression vs. placebo (P = 0.004):
    • ≥ 60% EPA,
    • ≥ 1000 mg EPA/d,
    • No significant effect from DHA.


  • Inflammatory rheumatoid diseases, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses, 30 clinical studies, 1420 participants, 3 to 6 months, therapeutic dose ≥ 2000 mg/d (Sigaux et al., 2022), significant effects compared to placebo on:
    • The number of painful, swollen, and sensitive joints,
    • The level of disease activity (assessment for 28 joints), and
    • The results of the health assessment questionnaire.


Therefore, while consuming 3-10 servings of fish per month already appears to have an impact on longevity, where clinical demonstrations typically use over 2000 mg/day of omega-3s for the majority of benefits seen by consumers. It is therefore necessary, for the majority of people, to supplement their consumption of omega-3s by taking a quality supplement to reach therapeutic dosages of 2000 to 4000 mg/day.



Article originally published in Vitalité Québec  




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