Supplements of omega-3 fatty acids may improve the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and slow a key biological process linked to aging, says ‘exciting’ new research.
Data published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity indicated that four months of supplementation with omega-3s were associated with longer of telomeres in immune system cells. Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells replicate and age.
The ageing and lifespan of normal, healthy cells are linked to the so-called telomerase shortening mechanism, which limits cells to a fixed number of divisions. During cell replication, the telomeres function by ensuring the cell's chromosomes do not fuse with each other or rearrange, which can lead to cancer.
Elizabeth Blackburn, a telomere pioneer at the University of California San Francisco and co-author of the new paper, likened telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the lace would unravel.
With each replication the telomeres shorten, and when the telomeres are totally consumed, the cells are destroyed (apoptosis). Previous studies have also reported that telomeres are highly susceptible to oxidative stress. Some experts have noted that telomere length may be a marker of biological ageing.
“The telomere finding is provocative in that it suggests the possibility that a nutritional supplement might actually make a difference in aging,” said Professor Jan Kiecolt-Glaser from Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
A previous observational study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010 (Vol. 303, Pages 250-257) high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids may slow cellular ageing in people with coronary heart disease.
Professor Kiecolt-Glaser and co-workers recruited 106 healthy sedentary overweight middle-aged and older adults to participate in their double-blind four-month trial. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: The first group received 2.5 grams per day of omega-3 (OmegaBrite), the second group received l.25 grams per day of omega-3, and the third group received placebo capsules.
After four months of supplementation, results showed that omega-3 supplementation significantly decreased measures of oxidative stress, with F2-isoprostanes levels found to be 15% lower in the two supplemented groups compared to placebo.
There were no significant differences in telomerase and telomere length between the groups. However, a decreased ratio of omega-6:omega-3 was associated with longer telomeres, which suggested that lower omega-6:omega-3 ratios “can impact cell aging”, said the researchers.
Inflammatory markers also decreased by between 10 and 12% as a result of omega-3 supplementation, while levels increased by 36% in the placebo group.
“This finding strongly suggests that inflammation is what’s driving the changes in the telomeres,” said Kiecolt-Glaser.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory and scientific affairs for GOED, said: “I think the exciting finding from this study is that average telomere length increased with omega-3 supplementation.
“While not statistically significant, the supplementation duration was very short. Consider that in 2010, JAMA published a paper on the results of research demonstrating an inverse relationship between baseline blood levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids and the rate of telomere shortening over 5 years.”
Source: Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.09.004
“Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial”
Authors: J.K. Kiecolt-Glaser, E.S. Epel, M.A. Belury, R. Andridge, J. Lin, R. Glaser, W.B. Malarkey, B.S. Hwang, E. Blackburn