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Omega 3: why it helps to have a younger body

The consumption of fatty acids from the omega-3 family is linked to a younger biological age. According to scientific studies, this type of fat offers protection to telomeres, the ends of chromosomes, whose shortening is an indicator of aging.

Telomere shortening is a natural process as it occurs as cells multiply. But there is evidence that the process can be slower or faster depending on lifestyle factors, such as diet, physical exercise or relaxation.

Omega-3: benefits against aging

The factors that are strongly associated with accelerated telomere shortening and dysfunction are oxidative stress and inflammation, explain scientists from the Institute of Animal Genetics and Biotechnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in the study published in Nutrients.​

The ability of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce these negative effects is related not only to their well-documented beneficial effect on a number of lifestyle-related diseases, but also to their beneficial effects on telomere biology.​

The consumption of omega-3 fatty acids for reduce accelerated wear of telomeres and, consequently, counteracting premature aging and reducing the risk of age-related diseases raises great hopes among the scientists who authored the study.

Telomeres and aging

During cell replication, telomeres prevent chromosomes from fusing with each other or rearranging, which could lead to cancer. Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, a pioneer in the study of telomeres at the University of California, San Francisco, compared telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the shoelace would come undone.

With each replication, the telomeres shorten, and when the telomeres are completely consumed, the cells are destroyed (apoptosis). The shortening or wasting of telomeres was mentioned as one of the nine characteristics of aging in a seminal article published in the journal Cell in 2013 and directed by Carlos López-Otín, professor at the University of Oviedo.

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One factor that directly contributes to telomere shortening is chronic stress, both during the prenatal period and childhood, as well as in adult life, according to the Polish authors. Depression, smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption also accelerate telomere wear.

Omega-3 to protect telomeres

In contrast, caloric restriction and increased antioxidant elements in the diet protect against telomere shortening. In this context, omega-3 fatty acids are important dietary compounds that, due to their biochemical properties, may affect telomere biology.

The study published in Nutrients started a review of the scientific literature that included seven observational studies, which indicated that, in general, omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in telomere biology. Such results, however, simply show correlation and not causation, which has led researchers to conduct randomized dietary studies using omega-3 supplements.

How much omega-3 to take

The researchers reported on four such intervention studies, which were conducted in a variety of populations, including mothers and their babies, people with chronic kidney disease, older people with mild cognitive impairment, and healthy, overweight, middle-aged old and elderly. The doses of omega-3 used ranged between a little more than one gram per day and four grams per day. Data from randomized trials were conflicting: some showed potential benefit and others found no effect.

The reviewers also searched the scientific literature for data from animal studies and found three studies that tested a benefit of omega-3 supplementation in the diet.

“Although the results of randomized cross-sectional studies in humans and rodents are not entirely consistent, the overwhelming number of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on telomere length,” the authors wrote.

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