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More omega-3 lowers physical and mental frailty in senior life

More omega-3 lowers physical and mental frailty in senior lifeAgeing is characterized by increased physical and mental frailty that reduces one’s ability to deal with various external stress factors. Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in oily fish and fish oil supplements are believed to prevent frailty through their immune-regulating and anti-inflammatory properties, but studies have shown conflicting results. Nonetheless, daily intake of two grams of omega-3 appears to reduce frailty. According to a large population study that is published in Frontiers in Nutrition, it is also important to include moderate quantities of high-quality omega-6.

Age-related physical and mental frailty is a syndrome that affects a variety of different body functions, including the musculoskeletal system, immune system, thyroid function, circulatory system, cognitive skills, and nervous system. Increased frailty is linked to a greater risk of infections, chronic inflammation, aching joints, cognitive impairment, fall accidents, bone fractures, hospitalization, and a general lack of ability to manage on your own. Increased frailty is not a linear development. Diet and physical activity also play a major role in the prevention of different types of frailties.
In the new population study, the scientists looked closer at the effect of the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are vital for heart health, the brain, our mental health, immune defense, regulation of inflammation, cancer prevention, and many other functions. The researchers also looked at optimal intake levels of the two fatty acids and the important balance between them, which is typically lacking in modern diets.
They gathered data from more than 12,000 people over a period of over nine years. The information was collected from NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), a large database with extensive details about the diets and lifestyles of the Americans. The study participants were 45 years of age and older, and around one third of them were characterized as “frail”, while around two thirds were characterized as “robust”. Their intake of omega-3 fatty acids from dietary sources or supplements was divided into three groups (tertiles):

  • T1 (less than 1.175 grams/daily)
  • T2 (1.176-2.050 grams/daily)
  • T3 (more than 2s050 grams/daily)

The participants’ intake of omega-6 fatty acids, which is typically substantially higher, was also divided into three tertiles:

  • T1 (less than 11.423 grams/daily)
  • T2 (11.424-19.160 grams/daily)
  • T3 (over 19.160 grams/daily)

The researchers then used different models to calculate the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 intake and the risk of developing different types of physical and mental frailty. They also looked at gender, age, race, BMI, smoking habits, and other confounders.
According to the study, a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids and a moderate omega-6 intake can lower the risk of developing various types of frailties in midlife and old age.
More specifically, one must consume more than two grams of omega-3 daily to obtain optimal protection against different types of frailties. Many people should also reduce their omega-6 intake to improve the omega-3/omega-6 ratio. This study supports earlier research that shows how much omega-3 is needed for preventing and treating different diseases.

Why is the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 so important?

We have omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our cell membranes where they control a number of different biochemical processes, including the cholesterol balance, nervous system, immune defense, and various inflammatory processes.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids engage in an intricate biochemical interplay that requires a specific balance. If we get too little omega-3 and/or too much omega-6, it increases our risk of chronic inflammation, which is involved in joint pain, depression, dementia, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and many other diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in oily fish such as herring, mackerel, and salmon. These food sources contain EPA and DHA, both of which are biologically active. Vegetable sources such as rapeseed, linseed, and walnuts contain a type of omega-3 called ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), which many people have difficulty with in terms of converting and utilizing it. Therefore, it is better to get omega-3 from animal foods sources.
We primarily get omega-6 fatty acids from sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, nuts, kernels, and seeds. Modern diets typically contain far too much omega-6 from plant oils, margarine, French fries, ready meals, and industrially processed foods. The omega-3/omega-6 ratio in our diets is typically 1:20, but according to the current study, the optimal ratio should be 1:5.


Zhaoqi Yan et al. The relationship between dietary intake of ϖ-3 and ϖ-6 fatty acids and frailty risk in middle-aged and elderly individuals: a cross-sectional study from NHANES. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2024

Roma Pahwa; Ishwarial Jialal. Chronic Inflammation. NCBI April 2018

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