What is the Role of Nutrition in Healthy Aging?
People in the United States are living longer than ever before; one of the great public health triumphs! However growing older also means a greater risk for many diseases, conditions and physical limitations. Since we (unfortunately) can’t change our age, what can be done to maintain health into old age? There is strong evidence that modifiable lifestyle factors such as body weight, nutrition and physical activity are linked to functional outcomes in old age. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular have been linked to healthy aging including cardiovascular function and cognition. A recent study further suggests that omega-3s may protect from impaired mobility.
Reinders and colleagues measured plasma levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in 556 older Icelandic men and women who initially had no mobility difficulty. They hypothesized that greater omega-3 fatty acids would be associated with lower risk of mobility disability (difficulty walking and climbing stairs) after 5 years of follow-up. The results showed that every increment increase in total omega-3 fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid; DHA, eicosapentaenoic acid; EPA, and docosapentaenoic acid; DPA) and DHA were associated with a 52% and 55% lower risk of developing mobility disability among women. A similar effect was not seen in men, however the authors suggest that this reflects a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids in men and as readers of TalkingNutrition know, nutrient status matters.
The results of the study are encouraging given that omega-3 status can be improved by consuming a diet rich in fatty fish, fortified foods or supplements. Still want further evidence of the impact of nutrition? Research from a global team of scientists identified dietary risks as the leading cause of health loss in the United States. Take this as a call to action, you have the power to make nutritional choices that may impact future health.
Reinders I et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in relation to incident mobility disability and decline in gait speed; the Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility-Reykjavik Study. Eur J Clin Nutr 2015, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.277
Stuck AE et al. Risk factors for functional status decline in community-living elderly people: a systematic literature review. Soc Sci Med 1999, 48(4):445-69.
Swanson D et al. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Adv Nutr 2012, doi:10.3945/an.111.000893
US Burden of Disease Collaborators. The state of US health, 1990-2010: burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors. JAMA 2013, doi:10.1001/jama.2013.13805