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Important Omega-3 News for Baby Boomers

Tim Boyer's picture

Researchers from Ohio State University have recently found that overweight to obese, middle-aged and older, Baby Boomers who are otherwise relatively healthy, can help maintain their good health by something as simple as taking an Omega-3 supplement. Taking an Omega-3 supplement, they say, will decrease chronic inflammation that otherwise left untreated can result in numerous medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Chronic inflammation is often diagnosed according to the levels of special proteins referred to as cytokine inflammation biomarkers that can be detected and measured in the blood. Two important pro-inflammatory biomarkers typically measured include interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α).

In the study, the researchers recruited 138 sedentary adults (45 men and 93 women) who were categorized as being either overweight or obese. Other measures of health selected only those who—aside from their weight—were considered to be relatively healthy and not suffering from disease or other health problems that might interfere with the study’s results. Overweight and obese participants were chosen for the study because chronic inflammation in the body is typical in patients with excess body fat.

According to a news release from Ohio State University, “We wanted to have enough room to see a downward trend. Most other trials testing the effects of Omega-3 supplements on inflammation used people who were seriously diseased or skinny and healthy,” said lead author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser. “You can see results in people with serious diseases, but there’s a lot of other noise in that system. We wanted to make sure we were studying results in people who were fairly fit but who weren’t exercising, because exercise can clearly lower inflammation.”

The test subjects were placed in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind 4-month trial that compared their responses to taking either 1.25 grams or 2.5 grams of an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement or a placebo control. Because previous research has indicated that the Omega-3 fatty acid EPA form (eicosapentaenoic) has more anti-inflammatory actions than the DHA (docosahezaenoic) form, the Omega-3 supplements given to the test subjects were adjusted to contain an EPA:DHA ratio of 7:1.

After the trial ended, the researchers drew blood samples from the study’s participants and measured their levels of inflammation biomarkers. What the analyses revealed was that test subjects given the Omega-3 supplements all showed a significant decrease in their pro-inflammatory biomarkers, whereas the placebo group showed an increase in inflammation biomarkers.

More specifically, the low-dose Omega-3 group demonstrated a 10% decrease in IL-6 and the higher-dose group showed a 12% decrease in IL-6 levels. The placebo group showed a 36% increase in IL-6. Similar results were noted with the TNF-α biomarker where the low-dose and higher-dose Omega-3 groups showed decreases of 0.2% and 2.3% respectively, whereas the placebo group showed an increase of 12%.

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“This is the first study to show that Omega-3 supplementation leads to changes in inflammatory markers in the blood in overweight but otherwise healthy people. In terms of regulating inflammation when people are already healthy, this is an important study in that it suggests one way to keep them healthy,” said Ms. Kiecolt-Glaser.

While the higher dose of Omega-3 supplement shows only a little better improvement over taking the lower dose, the researchers point out that the higher dose of Omega-3 fatty acid does help improve the ratio between Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids. The authors stated that the current typical American diet contains between 15 and 17 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3 and that this ratio needs to be narrowed by taking supplemental Omega-3.

“Scientists tend to agree that the best way to gauge a person’s Omega-3 status is to see whether that ratio goes down. That’s what we saw in this study, and it was achieved through supplementation,” said co-author Martha Belury, professor of Human Nutrition at Ohio State University. ”We wanted participants to maintain normal diets and simply add this modest amount of oil to their existing diet. We expected and we found that their blood plasma Omega-3 fatty acids went up in a dose-responsive manner.”

The FDA considers daily Omega-3 supplementation of up to 3 grams to be “generally regarded as safe” while the study’s higher-dose consisted of 2.5 grams of Omega-3 fatty acid supplement. In comparison, one 3.75-ounce can of King Oscar Sardines in soybean oil has listed 2.8 grams of Omega-3 in a single-serving can. For an interesting discussion about getting your Omega-3 from sardines as opposed to a supplement, see this blog post from the Health Correlator. In addition, see what Consumer Reports has to say about fish oil supplements in 2012.

The authors of the paper concluded that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can reduce inflammation in overweight, sedentary middle-aged and older Baby Boomers and could have broad health benefits that may impact disease initiation, progression, and resolution for many medical conditions.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile


“Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation in healthy middle-aged and older adults: A randomized controlled trial”
Brain, Behavior and Immunity (June 2012); Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser et al.

Health Corrrelator Blog post