Many of my patients are adding good Omega-3 fatty acids to their diet every day. Hopefully, you are too! I have been recommending Omega-3’s for many years to boost their cardiovascular and brain health. However, in the last year or so, I’ve also been telling my patients another important reason to be taking Omega-3’s – living longer. Here’s why.
Omega-3’s and Your Telomeres
It’s been known for a while now that Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in reducing risks from cardiovascular disease as they inhibit plaque and blood clots; they are great for reducing inflammation throughout the body; and instrumental in boosting brain power by promoting neurotransmitter health. Now there’s another reason to love Omega-3’s…
Recent research done at the University of California San Francisco confirmed that Omega-3 fatty acids also help support a long life. It was found in their research with telomere testing technology that people who had high levels of Omega-3’s in their white blood cells also had longer telomeres.
What are telomeres? Well, this is how I explain them to my patients. Telomeres are a little cap-like structure that sits at either end of your DNA strand of chromosomes. Your DNA constantly replicate – that is, they exactly reproduce themselves – and in the process, if you’re healthy and your immune system intact, your telomere “caps” will stay longer keeping you healthy longer.
If you’re immune system is not up to par and perhaps you’re not taking in enough Omega-3’s or antioxidants, your telomeres will shorten more and more until they finally can’t replicate anymore. The University of California researchers concluded that telomere shortening was a key part of cellular aging. This is why Omega-3 fatty acids are so important.
As I mentioned above, Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful in cooling down inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation, it has been research proven, is the key to the development of diseases – including cancer, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s, diabetes, etc. If we can reduce inflammation, hopefully eliminate it, we can strengthen the immune system and keep those telomeres longer and protecting your DNA.
Which Type of Omega-3’s?
The University of California research team centered on using marine Omega-3’s from whole fish, versus fish or krill oil supplements or walnut, flax seed, canola or soybean oil. It seems that Omega-3 from whole fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines gave the best data results with regard to telomere lengthening. That may have been the Omega-3 source the researchers used and doesn’t necessarily mean that other forms of Omega-3’s wouldn’t have the same results. Interestingly, though, Icelanders and the Japanese of Okinawa Island have credited their long life spans (outliving all other nationalities!) to their high intake of fatty fish and its high level of Omega-3’s.
However, fish, or krill oil supplements, as well as other types of Omega-3’s (see those listed above), can also boost a diet that includes whole fatty fish in it. These forms of Omega-3’s have also done very well in other studies with regards to their health benefits in general. Some of these include lowering LDL cholesterol, boosting brain health, fighting depression, reducing inflammation and its C-reactive protein marker levels and, recently, helping prevent chemotherapy induced muscle loss, and perhaps the vascular eye disease retinopathy.
How Much Omega-3 Fatty Acids Should You Get?
My patients are often confused about which Omega-3 sources they should eat, since there are several of them, both plant and animal sources, and how much. As I explain to them, Omega-3’s consist of two types of fatty acid, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docasahexaenoic acid) which the human body cannot manufacture on its own. You must get these valuable oils from your diet and/or supplements.
Recent research on Eskimo’s with very high Omega-3 blood levels from fish, and their very low triglyceride and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, suggests that the rest of us could be getting a lot more Omega-3 than most of us currently are. Minimum Omega-3 intake is about 1,000 mg, though I feel that 2-3,000 mg is a more beneficial range. However, be sure you take a reputable source of fish or krill oil supplement, mercury-free, and read the label, which states exactly how many milligrams of EPA and DHA are contained in your supplement.
As I mentioned above, fatty fish are a very rich source of both of these types of Omega-3 fatty acids, but so are flax seeds, canola, soybean and walnut oil – which are plant sources of Omega-3. Canola, walnut and soybean oils are a different source Omega-3’s – they are ALA (alpha linolenic acids) but are good polyunsaturated fats. Also, as I explain to my patients who find this a little tricky and confusing, Omega-6 intake (from other vegetable oils) needs to be balanced with Omega-3’s in no more than a 2:1 ratio of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s, preferably a 1:1 ratio. Too high Omega 6 intake can cause an increase of inflammation that leads to disease.
With regard to the telomere studies noted above, however, you will want to include several servings of whole fatty fish in your diet per week to confer those specific benefits. I also recommend that my patients sprinkle flax seeds on vegetables or salads.
More and more research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids confer significant health benefits and now, even living longer, and more youthfully is one of them. Be sure to get enough Omega-3 fats in your diet every day so that you can reap the same longevity benefits as Icelanders and Okinawans.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
The Omega-3 Miracle: The Icelandic Longevity Secret, http://www.amazon.com/The-Omega-3-Miracle-Icelandic-Protection/dp/1893910342
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Longevity, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703837004575013393566949312.html
What Are DHA and EPA Omega 3 Fatty Acids? http://longevity.about.com/od/lifelongnutrition/g/dha_epa_omega.htm
Omega 3,6 and 9: How They Add Up, http://www.omega-9oils.com/omega369.htm
photo credit: purenaturalmom.com