Chronic Disease

By James Keough

Just getting older increases the levels of inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies, even if we’re pretty careful about what we eat. And both conditions play significant roles in a whole bunch of chronic diseases, most notably cardiovascular disease, but also type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. So finding ways to lower them can have a tremendous impact on our health as we march, somewhat reluctantly, toward our golden years.

A new Korean study demonstrates that taking fish oil and restricting calories have a significant effect on inflammation and oxidative stress in mice. Researchers fed groups of mice one of four different regimens: all the feed they wanted (ad libitum) with either 5 percent corn oil or 5 percent fish oil added, or a calorie-restricted diet (60 percent of the amount eaten by the ad libitum group) plus either corn or fish oil. When the researchers tested for the chemicals that indicate the presence of these two conditions, they found that both fish oil groups and the calorie restricted corn oil group lessened age-related inflammation and oxidative stress significantly. But the clear winner was the combination of fish oil and calorie restriction—together they reduced oxidative stress by as much as 94 percent.

These findings corroborate previous results for both dietary fish oil and restricted calorie diets, suggesting that those of us interested in avoiding chronic disease, especially cardiovascular disease, could benefit from a similar regimen. That may be easier said than done. While increasing our intake of fish oil (or at least oil-rich cold-water fish like salmon or sardines) seems relatively easy, getting it to 5 percent of our diets would stretch anyone’s budget and, perhaps, tolerance. And restricting calories? Folks who have tried to cut back know how hard it is to maintain even a modest reduction, let alone a 40 percent cut. In practical terms that would mean trimming a 2,500-calorie-a-day diet to a scant 1,500—depending on your size, not all that much above the level your body requires just to stay alive.

Still, increasing our daily intake of fish oil and restricting our calories—coupled with reducing the percentage of calories we get from saturated fat, sugar, and refined grains—can improve our short- and long-term health tremendously. And we needn’t take draconian measures to accomplish this—we just need to set modest goals and stay the course.

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