Columbus, OHA recent study at The Ohio State University on omega-3 fatty acids shows that these “good fats” do more than just fight inflammation; they may actually slow down aspects of aging. Jan Keicolt-Glaser, professor and lead author of the study, found that when overweight adults consumed an omega-3 supplement for four months, telomeres, or segments of their DNA, were preserved greater than people taking a placebo.

Telomeres are found on the ends of chromosomes. Ron Glaser, professor at Ohio State University, compared them to the plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces—if the cap falls off, the shoelace unravels and no longer works as well. When cells divide, a small piece of DNA is lost from the end and over time this can lead to biological problems. Therefore, by extending the life of telomeres, we may be able to combat some illnesses that are associated with aging, such as coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to note the key relationship between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid levels in our diets. The American diet is fueled by high levels of omega-6, to the point where the average person consumes these two fatty acids in a 15-to-1 ratio.  It is found that by reducing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 to four-to-one, or even two-to-one, our bodies can benefit the most from their anti-inflammatory properties.  By increasing our omega-3 intakes, we are making this overall ratio smaller.

In this study, 106 healthy, but overweight adults, averaging 51 years, received either 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids for four months. The placebo group took a mix of oils that are found in a typical American diet. Overall, both groups taking the omega-3 supplements showed increased telomere length, which could be due to change. However, when omega-6 to omega-3 ratios were analyzed, a lower ratio was associated with lengthened telomeres. Compared to the placebo group, participants taking the supplements also displayed a 15% decrease in oxidative stress and lower levels of a specific inflammatory marker in the blood.

Researchers believe that there is a relationship between inflammation and the length of telomeres, and overall, Kiecolt-Glaser says, “Anything that reduces inflammation has a lot of potentially good spinoffs among older adults.”


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2012 (online October 19, 2012)