Part of senior living is learning how to stay as healthy as possible as you age. In recent years, an ever-growing body of research has emerged supporting the health benefits of omega-3s. What exactly are these nutrients, and how do they stand to benefit seniors?

What are omega-3s?

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Often referred to as PUFAs, they are essential, which means that the cannot be manufactured within the body. Thus, we must get them from outside sources.

Why are they good for health?

These acids are vital for brain health, cellular reproduction and growth, and decreasing inflammation in the body. While all of these things are important, there is one overriding reason why it's important to increase your intake of omega-3s: the current imbalance between omega-3s and omega-6s in the Western diet.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, people in some Western countries consume up to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. This is problematic, as omega-3s reduce inflammation, while omega-6s promote it. Chronic inflammation can lead to widespread medical issues, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, gum disease and other problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Why are they important for seniors?

A number of conditions that older adults experience have been correlated with omega-3 deficiency. First and foremost, consider that list of inflammation-caused diseases. Cancer, heart disease and other serious health conditions are associated with senior populations.

Some researchers have also suggested that omega-3s could play a role in preventing dementia and cognitive decline. A systematic review of studies published in the US National Library of Medicine found that evidence supports a link between having an appropriate ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in the diet and a decreased risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

Sources of omega-3s

There are a number of ways to get more omega-3s into your diet. The easiest way to do so may be to take a fish oil supplement, or a flaxseed oil supplement if you're vegetarian. These can be good options, particularly because consuming fresh fish multiple times a week may lead to an increased risk of extra mercury entering the body.

If you choose to eat fish, however, your best bet will be fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut and mackerel. If you prefer not to eat meat, you can get alpha linoleic acid (ALA) – a less effective yet vegetarian form of omega-3 – from soybeans, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and canola oil.

Why should seniors take omega-3 supplements?