Omega-3 fatty acids may improve the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and slow a key biological process linked to aging. Data published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity indicated that four months of supplementation with omega-3s was associated with longer telomeres in immune system cells. Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells replicate and age.
The aging and lifespan of normal, healthy cells are linked to the so-called telomere shortening mechanism, which limits cells to a fixed number of divisions. During cell replication, the telomeres function by ensuring the cell’s chromosomes do not fuse with each other or rearrange. Most researchers liken telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the lace would unravel. With each replication the telomeres shorten, and when the telomeres are totally consumed, the cells are destroyed.
Some experts have noted that telomere length may be a marker of biological aging.
This information suggests the possibility that omega 3 supplements might actually make a difference in aging.
A previous observational study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010 (Vol. 303, Pages 250-257) showed high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids may slow cellular aging in people with coronary heart disease.
Professor Kiecolt-Glaser and co-workers recruited 106 healthy, sedentary, overweight, middle-aged and older adults to participate in their double-blind four-month trial. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: The first group received 2.5 grams per day of omega-3, the second group received 1.25 grams per day of omega-3 and the third group received placebo capsules.
After four months of supplementation, results showed that omega-3 supplementation significantly decreased measures of oxidative stress, with F2-isoprostane levels found to be 15% lower in the two supplemented groups compared to placebo.
There were no significant differences in telomerase and telomere length between the groups. However, a decreased ratio of omega-6:omega-3 was associated with longer telomeres, which suggested that lower omega-6:omega-3 ratios “can impact cell aging,” the researchers said.
Inflammatory markers also decreased by between 10% and 12% as a result of omega-3 supplementation, while levels increased by 36% in the placebo group.
“This finding strongly suggests that inflammation is what’s driving the changes in the telomeres,” said Kiecolt-Glaser.
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity; Published online ahead of print.