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Omega-3 Supplements and Antiaging, New Research

Omega-3, antiaging and telomeres

If you want to slow down the aging process--and who doesn't--you could increase the amount of omega-3s in your diet. A new study from Ohio StateUniversity indicates that healthy middle-aged and older adults who took omega-3 supplements triggered changes in their DNA that promoted antiaging.

How omega-3s can fight aging

The fight against aging is popular and raging: the global industry that has built up around it is expected to gross more than $291 billion by 2015, according to a CNN Health report. Scores of products are touted as possessing antiaging properties, but the science to back up the claims are few.

Researchers at Ohio State have explored the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to fight aging at a molecular level. That is, they found that these essential fatty acids can help preserve portions of the DNA, called telomeres, in white blood cells.

Studies into the role of telomeres in the aging process has opened up new doors of understanding concerning how humans age and, perhaps more importantly, how to promote antiaging. Telomeres are short segments of DNA that are like protective lids at the end of chromosomes.

As cells age and divide, they lose a portion of the DNA at their end, where the telomeres are located. The telomeres keep getting shorter and shorter, and "over time, that can cause significant problems," noted study co-author Ron Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State.

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In this new study, 106 adults (average age, 51 years) who were either overweight or obese and not physically active but disease-free took omega-3 supplements (2.5 or 1.25 grams) or placebo daily for four months. The omega-3 supplements contained a mixture of the two main fatty acids in this group: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) at a ratio of 7 to 1.

Among study participants who took omega-3s:

  • The ratio of fatty acid intake changed in a way that helped preserve telomeres in immune system cells
  • Oxidative stress, which is caused by free radical damage and promotes aging, was reduced by about 15 percent when compared with the placebo group
  • Inflammation, which is a key factor in many diseases associated with aging (e.g., arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease), also was reduced. The scientists noted that a decline in an inflammatory marker called interleukin-6 (IL-6) was associated with lengthening of telomeres. Earlier research by the same authors revealed a 36 percent increase in IL-6 among individuals taking placebo compared with a 10% to 12% decrease among those who took omega-3 supplements.

According to lead author Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State, "The telomere finding is provocative in that it suggest the possibility that a nutritional supplement might actually make a difference in aging."

The improvements in telomere length were not due solely to omega-3 supplementation, however, but to the impact it had on the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. Most diets are disproportionately high in the former, with an average ratio of about 15:1 for omega-6s and omega-3s, respectively.

An optimal ratio, however, is believed to be around 4:1 or 2:1. Supplementation with omega-3s in this study brought the participants' ratios closer to the optimal range, and the lower ratio was associated with longer telomeres.

Scores of studies have suggested omega-3 supplements (and omega-3s found in cold water fish and to a lesser extent, some nuts and flaxseed) may help prevent vision loss, support brain health, protect your heart, and prevent osteoarthritis, among other benefits. Could it also be that omega-3 supplements can support antiaging by lengthening telomeres?

CNN Health
Kiecolt-Glaser JK et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: a randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior and Immunity 2012 Sep 23. pii:S0889-1591(12)000431-X
Kiecolt-Glaser JK et al. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation in healthy middle-aged and older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior and Immunity 2012 Aug; 26(6): 988-95
Ohio State University

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