New Research Shows Omega-3s Can Help Preserve Lung Function*
A new (and large) recently published study sheds exciting insights into the relationship between omega-3 fatty acid levels and healthy lung function. Here’s what researchers found in their two-part analysis.
Part 1: The impact of omega-3 status over time
The first question researchers asked was about how plasma levels of omega-3 fats—including ALA (which is primarily found in plants), DHA, and EPA (both are mainly found in fatty fish—influence how the lungs work over time.
To do this, they followed 15,063 people and measured their lung function repeatedly over the span of 20 years. The group was considered healthy and racially diverse with no previous lung health concerns.
At the end of the study, those who had higher blood levels of omega-3 fats also had a slower rate of lung function decline (aka lung health was better preserved). And the fatty acid DHA seemed to offer the most benefits.
In fact, each 1% increase of DHA in a person’s blood was significantly linked to even slower lung decline.
The type and amount of omega-3s you eat are directly correlated with blood levels of these fatty acids. So it’s a safe assumption that the people in this study with higher levels of omega-3 fats consumed more of those nutrients.
Scientists have yet to pinpoint the mechanism behind why omega-3s have this impact on the lungs. But from previous research, we know that omega-3s have extensive antioxidant capabilities5 that support a diverse range of health functions in the body.* And it may be those actions that help preserve lung function.
Part 2: Genetic indicators of omega-3s for lung health
The second part of this study involved analyzing genetic data from over 500,000 European adults (part of the UK Biobank database).
Why? Because there are certain genetic markers in the blood that are connected to—and can be used as an indirect measure of omega-3 status.
Analysis of this data showed similar results. People with genetic variations linked with better omega-3 fatty acid status also seemed to have better lung function.
How can you bump up your omega-3 intake?
It’s recommended that adults get around 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA a day, but over 90% of Americans fall short of that number. But most research shows that higher daily intake levels of omega-3 fats (at around 1,000 milligrams) are linked to specific health benefits. So most people really need to bump up their intake for optimal health.
And there are a few key ways to do that.
- Eat more fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, herring, and anchovies are great sources of omega-3s. A three-ounce serving of one of these fish offers between 500 to 2,300 milligrams of a combination of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats.
- Try algae and seaweed: These are the only plant-based sources of DHA. But it’s not necessarily a practical source to even meet the daily minimum recommendation for omega-3s. For example, a (whopping) 68-gram serving of edible red seaweed6 only provides around 250 milligrams of EPA and DHA.
- Add a high-quality supplement: Fish oil supplements offer a concentrated source of these two essential nutrients. mindbodygreen’s omega-3 potency+ delivers 1,500 grams of EPA and DHA from 100% wild-caught, cold-water anchovies from the South Pacific (in the most readily absorbable form available).* It’s a convenient way to make sure you’re consistently getting an effective amount of these nutrients.
Both parts of this study suggest that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood—especially DHA—are linked to better lung health, and preserving function with age. Most people aren’t getting the omega-3s they need through diet alone.
Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist and mindbodygreen's supplements editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences health and wellbeing.