Q: Is there one key nutrient that we should all be taking that has been studied for assisting in healthy aging of the heart, brain, and joints?
A: Yes: omega-3 fatty acids. These are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the two crucial omega-3s seen in research to benefit a wide array of health concerns, as well as for healthy aging.
Our bodies can’t make omega-3s; therefore, we need to get them through diet and supplementation. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are some of the best dietary sources of EPA and DHA.
The omega-3 index is a blood test that gives a complete report of one’s fatty acid profile. It measures the total fatty acid levels in the red blood cell membranes and is expressed as a percentage of EPA and DHA. The desirable range is between 8 and 12 percent.
Studies relating to cardiovascular, cognitive, and joint health are now looking at omega-3 index scores as a valid biomarker. The Heart and Soul Study of 2010 found “a reduced blood EPA+DHA level is independently related to risk for death in patients with CHD [cardiovascular].”
When looking at brain health, a 2016 German study found that elderly subjects with a low omega-3 index were at a significantly higher risk for cognitive impairment.
Lastly, with regard to joint health, a 2015 Thailand study found that “1,000 g daily supplementation [of] had significant efficacy to improve knee performance and also [is] safe in mild to moderate stages of knee osteoarthritic patients.”