Omega-3 Oils Slow Aging by Preserving Telomeres
In scientific circles it’s called the Hayflick limit, pegging the potential lifespan of humans at 120 years (a mathematical calculation). After that time, in theory, your cells run out of the ability to split and divide – meaning that you have lost the potential to regenerate and rejuvenate.
Central to this theory of aging are your telomeres. Telomeres sit at the end of your chromosomes, acting like a cap on the end of the chromosome protecting it from damage. They contain vital DNA information that is needed for cellular replication. When your cells divide they take a snippet of DNA information from the telomere, which tells the new cell what to do. This process shortens the length of the telomere. However, telomeres have anywhere from 300 – 600 snippets of DNA (base pairs) that can be used for replication. Eventually the telomeres run out of DNA snippets (they become shorter in length), at which point a cell dies. Collectively, the Hayflick theory says this process, under optimal conditions, can go on for 120 years before telomere shortening ends your life.
Unfortunately, it is rather easy to speed up the process of shortening your telomeres independent of cell division, and thus speed up your aging process and shorten your potential lifespan. This is done by exposing your telomeres to compounds that damage them. Free radicals, toxins, infections, excess stress, excess inflammation, and drug and alcohol abuse can all speed up telomere shortening.
On the other hand, any nutrient or lifestyle intervention that takes stress off of telomeres improves lifespan potential. This is one main reason why antioxidants, which deactivate free radicals, are considered anti-aging nutrients. The antioxidant nutrient carnosine has previously shown the ability to help rejuvenate telomeres.
This new study is profound because it was done with 608 adults with a five year follow up. The researchers were trying to find reasons why heart patients live longer when they take fish oil. They measured telomere length and the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) in blood cells (leukocytes). Five years later they repeated the measurements. Individuals with the lowest amount of omega-3 oils had the shortest telomeres, whereas the group with the highest concentration of DHA and EPA had the longest telomeres. Each 1-standard deviation increase in DHA+EPA levels was associated with a 32 percent reduction in the odds of telomere shortening.
While this study was conducted in a population of cardiovascular patients there is no reason to assume the finding would not also apply to the general population. This is a major anti-aging benefit of fish oil consumption.
It should be pointed out that in the case of omega-3 fatty acids you are what you eat. Omega-3 oils accumulate in the membranes of your cells in direct response to how much of them you consistently consume.