People who don’t eat enough omega-3 are more likely to die earlier than people who smoke, new study reports.

According to the findings, a low intake of oily fish can reduce your life expectancy by five years, compared to a reduction of four years if you smoke.

Vital fatty acids stored in the oil of certain fish are considered to be beneficial for the heart and are known to decrease blood clots. Salmon and mackerel are examples of oily fish.

Dr Michael McBurney, from the University of Guelph in Canada, said: “It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the mean Omega-3 Index is greater than eight per cent, the expected life span is around five years longer than it is in the United States, where the mean Omega-3 Index is about five per cent.

“Hence, in practice, dietary choices that change the Omega-3 Index may prolong life.”

He added: “In the final combined model, smoking and the Omega-3 Index seem to be the most easily modified risk factors.

“Being a current smoker, at age 65, is predicted to subtract more than four years of life, compared with not smoking, a life shortening equivalent to having a low vs. a high Omega-3 Index.”

The scientists analysed data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) to examine how specific risk factors instigate heart disease.

Age, gender and whether you have diabetes are examples of common risk factors.

The findings reveal that assessing the quantity of an individual’s fatty acids is just as effective as analysing conventional risk factors when predicting life expectancy.

Fellow researcher and President of the Fatty Acid Research Institute, Dr Bill Harris said: “The information carried in the concentrations of four red blood cell fatty acids was as useful as that carried in lipid levels, blood pressure, smoking, and diabetic status with regard to predicting total mortality.

“This speaks to the power of the Omega-3 Index as a risk factor and should be considered just as important as the other established risk factors, and maybe even more so.”

Risk can be lowered by a person’s lifestyle choices, such as diet, smoking status, exercise, and alcohol intake.

The full set of results can now be accessed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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