Omega 3 Benefits - Aging

Scientific research has identified potential omega 3 benefits in relation to various aging mechanisms.

Can we slow down the aging process?

We associate many medical conditions, including debilitating degenerative diseases, with aging.

We now have compelling evidence, published by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), that omega 3 (n-3) PUFAs directly influence the aging process.


Every cell in our body contains chromosomes. The two end sections of each chromosome consist of a simplified, repetitive DNA structure called a telomere.

Every time a chromosome replicates it loses a short section of its telomeres. Eventually the telomeres become too short and the chromosome is unable to replicate. This results in the death of the cell.

The Soviet biologist Alexey Olovnikov first suggested the telomere mechanism in 1973.


In 2009 Elizabeth Blackburn, a researcher at UCSF, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with two colleagues for the discovery of the enzyme telomerase.

Telomerase causes the addition of new DNA to the end of telomeres thus extending the life of the cell.

The beneficial effect of n-3 on telomeres

The study conducted by UCSF involved monitoring telomere length in 608 outpatients who were suffering from coronary heart disease.

The participants with the lowest levels of EPA and DHA exhibited the fastest rate of telomere shortening. Those who had the highest levels of EPA and DHA exhibited the slowest rate of telomere shortening.

Anti-Aging may be part of Fish Oil Benefits: If EPA and DHA can slow down the rate at which our telomeres shorten, we can benefit from including these important n-3 PUFAs in our diet by eating fatty fish or taking high quality fish oil or algae supplements.

Other aspects of n-3 consumption and aging

Possible omega 3 benefits have been highlighted in connection with other aging mechanisms.

The PUFA balance in the phospholipids contained in cell membranes is highly correlated with longevity through the mechanism of membrane fluidity. We are able to influence the PUFA composition of cell membranes directly by varying our dietary intake of PUFAs. Therefore we are able to impact the aging process via our diets.

Much remains to be understood about the impact of dietary PUFAs on aging. Some research studies suggest that diets rich in olive oil (a saturated fatty acid) are more helpful than diets rich in sunflower oil (an n-6 PUFA).

Oxidative Stress: Recent theories concerning aging emphasize the relevance of oxidative stress. There is a high correlation between oxidative stress and the fatty acid composition of cell membranes. Higher levels of PUFA saturation are associated with less oxidative stress and greater longevity

The Theory of Free Radicals (Harman 1956) suggests that aging is the result of accumulated random damage to DNA (the genetic material of cells) by free radicals.

Free radicals are atoms or molecules that have a single unpaired electron n their outer shell, allowing them to cause oxidative damage. Eventually Harman identified mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells, as both the likely source and target of the free radicals.

The more recent Mitochondrial Theory (Miguel et al 1980) substitutes reactive oxidative species (ROS) for free radicals. Free radicals are a subset of ROS, hence the theory has been extended to include a wider range of molecules.

The Spanish scientists Pamplona and Barja have made important updates to the Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging (Chow 960). This has implications for the anti-aging qualities of n-3 PUFAs.

Long-lived mammals and birds exhibit low levels of unsaturation in their cell membranes. This means that they contain fatty acids that are less prone to lipid peroxidation, resulting in lower levels of oxidative damage to DNA.

Oxidative damage to membrane lipids is an important factor in aging.

Higher oxidation is correlated with a higher double bond count associated with larger quantities of DHA in cell membranes compared with ALA.

The Power of Antioxidants: The impact of oxidative stress can be mitigated by antioxidants. Including significant quantities of these micronutrients in your diet could help to increase your longevity. Some foods, such as chia seeds, contain high levels of antioxidants as well as providing omega 3 benefits.

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