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Omega-3 and Biological Age – Could This Be True?

By Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN

It is national heart month, the time of year dedicated to increasing awareness and promoting steps each of us can take to reduce our risk for cardiovascular disease.  Indeed, heart disease is largely preventable.  Diet, activity, and lifestyle choices are directly linked to the health of our hearts.

The crucial role of EPA and DHA omega-3s in heart health has been documented for more than 50 years. The need for these nutrients naturally found in fish, seafood, and fish oil cannot be underestimated, especially since nearly all Americans fail to consume even the minimum daily recommended amount.  While there is less global data, intake appears to be low in many industrialized countries.

Higher intake of EPA and DHA omega-3 is associated with better heart health. Full stop.

Better heart health is associated with greater longevity.  Full stop.

Since it is heart month, I wanted to highlight some work in adults with stable heart disease that has not had much attention. What if, in addition to reducing our risk for both heart attack and fatal heart attack, higher levels of omega-3s kept us biologically younger?  Could this be true?

Let’s start with telomeres.

Telomere length is an emerging marker for biological age: longer telomeres are associated with longer life, and the opposite is true with shorter telomeres.  Simply put, telomeres are compound structures (tandem repeat DNA sequences) at the end of our chromosomes; during cell division and over time, they become longer or shorter.  They are thought to reflect the lifetime burden of genetic and environmental factors, independent of chronological age.

Now, let’s look at some research.

Researchers measured EPA and DHA omega-3 levels and telomere length in men and women living with stable heart disease, then followed them for 5-8 years and repeated the measurements.

Here is what they discovered:

  • The quickest shortening of telomeres occurred in those with the lowest levels of EPA and DHA omega-3.
  • The slowest rate of telomere shortening occurred in those with the highest levels of EPA and DHA omega-3. The results were statistically significant.

In sum, they found that every 1-standard deviation increase in EPA and DHA was associated with a 32% reduction in the odds of telomere shortening.  Said another way, higher levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 were associated with longer telomeres, which is associated with greater longevity.

As essential nutrients, EPA and DHA omega-3 have a multitude of roles in human health.  All our cells need omega-3 to function properly. Our only job is to consume them.

Could it be so, that consuming EPA and DHA could keep us biologically younger?  This work suggests that EPA and DHA omega-3s protect against cellular aging in people with heart disease. To be sure, this work is observed by association; it does not show cause and effect.

Nonetheless, it is good and promising news.  

Gretchen Vannice is the Director of Nutrition Education and Research for Wiley Companies.  She is a globally recognized expert, author, and speaker in omega-3 research and education.

Disclaimer: This information is offered for educational purposes only. It is the opinion and scientific interpretation of the author. It is not intended as medical advice of any kind. The educational information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate, or cure any disease nor has this been reviewed or approved by the FDA.

Scientific References are available upon request.