A new study partially attributes longevity to consuming enough omega-3s to balance the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, which preserves DNA segments called telomeres – telomeres shorten with age. The scientists essentially pinpoint omega-4 fats as a natural anti-aging nutrient.
Participants in the experiment supplementing with omega-3s also showed 15 percent lower levels of oxidative stress compared to a placebo group.
Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio in America
The typical American diet is heavy in omega-6 fatty acids—found in vegetable oils—and low in omega-3s, with about a 15-1 ratio.
“The idea we were looking at with the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was an increase in the denominator to make the ratio smaller. In the United States, we need to focus on the omega-3 part because we don’t get enough of those.” Ideally, researchers say the ratio should be 4-1 or 2-1.
Natural Anti-Aging – The Experiment
The studied group consisted of 106 disease-free, overweight or obese adult participants averaging 51 years of age and experiencing low stress, sedentary lives. Smokers, vegetarians, diabetics, athletes, and individuals regularly consuming fish oil or medications were excluded from the study.
Participants were separated into three groups:
- Placebo group taking pills with mixture and ratio of oils found in the characteristic America diet
- Those taking 2.5 grams of active omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids
- Those taking 1.25 grams of active omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids
The omega-3s administered were a 7:1 ratio of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), because EPA has been shown in previous studies to fight inflammation more than DHA.
After four months, the groups supplementing with omega-3s showed lengthened telomeres on average compared to the placebo group. A lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio was associated with telomere lengthening, leading to accelerated aging.
Inflammation Shortens Telomeres
Why all this fuss over telomeres? Telomeres cap either end of chromosomes. Think of them as the plastic caps at the ends of shoelaces. “If that plastic comes off, the shoelace unravels and it doesn’t work anymore,” says co-author Ron Glaser. “In the same way, every time a cell divides, it loses a little bit of its DNA at the ends, and over time, that can cause significant problems.”
Researchers note that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s may lower the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions associated with aging. This study’s finding “strongly suggests that inflammation is what’s driving the changes in telomeres,” says lead author Jan Kiecolt-Glaser.
“Inflammation in particular is at the heart of so many health problems. Anything that reduces inflammation has a lot of potentially good spinoffs among older adults,” says Kiecold-Glaser. Turmeric, olive oil, and magnesium are readily available anti-inflammatories.
Obviously, chugging cod liver oil isn’t the singular answer to longevity. The body is an orchestra in need of fine tuning from all angles, from diet to exercise, stress to detoxification. In addition to adding more focus to all those areas and considering omega 3 fats as a potential natural anti-aging nutrient, check out this article where the healthiest people over age 99 offer their secrets to longevity.