A new study has found that heart patients with the highest blood levels of omega-3s have lower levels of a key sign of aging.
I’ve long advocated omega-3’s for the health of your brain and your heart, largely because they’re one of the most anti-inflammatory substances on the planet. But the new study shows that they do even more than we thought.
A little background. Scientists have long known that as we age, the DNA sequence at the end of our chromosomes called telomeres begin to shorten. The more the cells replicate (and the more we age) the shorter the telomeres, which are basically like protective caps on your chromosomes. Last summer, researchers showed that two habits- drinking tea and taking a multivitamin- were associated with having longer telomeres.
The current study shows that omega-3’s also protect telomeres, at least in heart patients. But there’s every reason to believe they do the same for those without heart disease. The cellular anti-aging effect seems to be due to the omega-3’s proven antioxidant effects, or to their ability to stimulate a particular enzyme called telomerase that repairs the telomeres themselves.
The length of telomeres is an important sign of aging. With each cellular replication, telomeres shorten. When the telomeres are finally gone, the cells “unravel” much like your shoelaces would without the caps. Without telomeres the cells commit a kind of cellular “suicide” called apotosis (cell death).
Telomeres are highly vulnerable to damage from free radicals generated by normal metabolism, inflammation, and ingestion of polluted air and water. This is one likely reason why food-borne antioxidants – which help the body neutralize free radicals – appear to help maintain health
Researchers compared the lengths of telomeres in blood cells of 608 heart patients at the beginning and the end of a five-year period beginning September 2000. They found that people with the lowest omega-3 levels experienced the fastest rate of telomere shortening.
In contrast, those with the highest omega-3 levels showed the slowest rate of telomere shortening.
As the authors wrote, “… there was an inverse relationship between baseline blood levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids and the rate of telomere shortening over 5 years. These findings raise the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cellular aging in patients with coronary heart disease.”
Results may help explain omega-3s’ proven heart benefits
The findings offer one plausible biological explanation for why fish oil helps heart patients.
The authors speculated that omega-3s may counteract oxidative stress, or increase the production of telomerase … an enzyme that lengthens and repairs shortened telomeres.
If you find it surprising that they’d suggest an antioxidant role for omega-3s, you’ve been listening to the wrong people.
Many observers make erroneous assumptions about the susceptibility of dietary omega-3s to oxidation in the body.
While omega-3s oxidize rapidly when exposed to air, several recent studies have shown that they act as antioxidants inside our vascular system … thereby reducing inflammation and, in turn, the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
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(Thanks to Craig Weatherby of Vital Choice for additional reporting on this story. You can find out more about the superb line of Vital Choice seafood products here Don’t forget to use the coupon code DRJONNY for 10% off your order.)