Omega 3 fatty acids may hold the key to defying aging by extending the life and length of telomeres.
12/09/2022 - Nutrition Insight
Researchers have found that omega 3 fatty acids may hold the key to defying aging by extending the life and length of telomeres. Telomeres are the ends of DNA strands that shorten over time and parallel the aging process. Shortened telomeres have also been linked to several age-related diseases.
They further found that omega 3 fatty acids were able to interact with the DNA in such a way as to inhibit the shortening of telomeres they hold could further prevent age-related diseases and prolong youth.
According to the authors: “Maintaining the optimal amount of and the ratio between omega 3 fatty acids and other fatty acids in the diet helps to prevent diseases such as heart attacks, atherosclerosis, thrombosis, arrhythmia, stroke, immune‐inflammatory disorders, asthma, arthritis, cancer, type II diabetes mellitus, obesity, and psychiatric disorders.”
Focus on fatty acids
The researchers conducted a review of studies consisting of over 3,000 human participants, as well as some studies conducted on rodents – which have longer telomeres than humans. They found that variability in the shortening of telomeres suggested that it was a modifiable trait that could be influenced by factors such as inflammation, oxidative stress and cell division among others.
The health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids have long been known. According to the study published in Nutrients, there is research to back most of it up. However, this may be one of the most complicated benefits to be studied yet.
According to the researchers, omega 3s and their derivatives act as “messenger molecules,” helping to transmit signals along the nervous system, regulate the blood supply of different organs, transportation of ions across cell membranes and can even act as hormones. Now, the researchers have stated that there is also evidence that omega 3s can inhibit the effect of telomerase, the enzyme that acts to shorten telomeres.
The fountain of youth?
More than just inhibiting the main enzyme that affects telomere length, some of the studies reviewed also found that omega 3s may help to ease the oxidative stress and inflammation that also affect telomeres over time, representing a multi-pronged defense against the aging process.
The main role of telomeres is to protect against genetic information loss within the DNA during replication. However, with each cell division, telomeres lose an estimated 250 nucleotides in length. This leaves a gap at the end of each telomere following replication which is known as the “end replication problem.”
Because of this shortening, human cells can only divide a set amount of times. This set number is known as the Hayflick limit after the scientist who first proposed it. Consuming omega 3s will not get rid of the Hayflick limit or allow the human cell to replicate infinitely, but it may well allow them to divide beyond the normal set number of times.
Not a complete consensus
The authors of the study do admit that there are limitations to their study, noting that though not all of the clinical trials reviewed were consistent in these findings, the majority of them were.
They also state that further studies will require researchers to carefully investigate the dosing and timing of the omega 3s, age and gender of participants, participants’ prior health status, ethnic and regional diversities in results and the types of omega 3s used. For instance, whether docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or α‐linolenic acid (ALA) is used.
“An important member of the omega 3 fatty acid family is ALA, which is called an essential fatty acid,” reads the study. “The main sources of ALA are oils, nuts, and seeds, e.g., flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, soybeans and soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, rapeseed oil, and olive oil.”
“Omega 3 fatty acids are indispensable for the proper functioning of organisms,” the authors conclude.