A “provocative” new clinical trial reports that omega-3 supplementation, from dark-fleshed fish, helps improve the body’s ratio of fatty acids and slows a biological process related to aging—the shortening of DNA sequences called telomeres. The study supports a 2010 observational study similarly linking higher levels of omega-3s to slower cell aging in heart patients.
So what might these results mean? One of the new study’s co-authors, 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, of the University of California-San Francisco, likened telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the lace would unravel. Similarly, telomeres at the end of chromosomes protect cells during replication. With age, however, telomeres shorten; the length of telomeres is thought to be a marker of biological aging.
UPPING YOUR OMEGA-3’s. In the new study, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, researchers tested omega-3 supplements in 106 overweight and sedentary but otherwise healthy middle-aged and older adults. The randomized, double-blind trial assigned one group to 2.5 grams daily of omega-3s, another group to 1.25 grams daily and a third group to a placebo. After four months, the omega-3 groups showed lower levels of inflammation and oxidative stress, both thought to affect cellular aging. Actual telomere differences between the groups didn’t vary significantly, which scientists attributed to the short length of the trial, But a high ratio of fatty acids was associated with longer telomeres, a finding researchers said suggested improving the ratio can “can impact cell aging.”
Lead author Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, of Ohio State University commented, “The telomere finding is provocative in that it suggests the possibility that nutritional supplements might actually make a difference in aging.”
This four-month clinical trial echoes findings from a five-year observational published in JAMA in 2010. That study showed higher blood levels of omega-3s like those found in fish were associated with a slower rate of telomere shortening.
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