Omega-3s May Slow The Rate of Ageing
No matter what the health topic under discussion, omega-3 containing foods appear critical in our diet.
Studies have shown that optimal intake of omega-3 fatty acids can lower our risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and several forms of arthritis. Also certain cancers, depression and bipolar disorders and an ever-increasing list of chronic health problems related to our skin, nervous system and immune and inflammatory systems.
But researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) may have taken our understanding of omega-3s to a new level. For perhaps the first time in published research, scientists at several medical schools and hospitals in the San Francisco area have linked omega-3 intake with the rate of ageing itself. And they have made this link by delving down into the genetics of 608 study participants.
While scientists are a long way from understanding all aspects of the ageing process, some of the genetic aspects are fairly well understood. One of these genetic aspects involves structures called telomeres. Most of the genetic material in our body is packaged in the form of chromosomes.
Chromosomes are the way that our genetic material is organised. (Our cells have 46 chromosomes each.) Telomeres are short lengths of DNA found at the ends of our chromosomes. They function like short plastic sleeves on the ends of shoelaces: at the time when our cells reproduce telomeres prevent our chromosomes from unraveling.
Over time, however, as cell reproduction continues over and over, the length of the telomeres can get whittled away to the point where there is not really enough telomere left at the ends of the chromosomes to prevent the chromosomes from unraveling. This unraveling can contribute to the risk of disease and to rate at which our bodies age. In men, for example, telomeres in white blood cells have been found to decrease in length by 9% every 10 years, and in men with particularly short telomeres, the risk of coronary heart disease is significantly increased. In this UCSF study, researchers measured the length of telomeres in the white blood cells of all 608 participants two times: once at the start of the study and then again, 5 years later.
In addition, the blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were measured in all participants. What the researchers discovered was a link between omega-3 levels in the blood and the length of the telomeres on the chromosomes inside the white blood cells! Higher blood levels of omega-3s corresponded to longer telomeres, and lower blood levels of omega-3s meant a risk of telomeres that were too short. Fairly small increases in the blood levels of omega-3s were associated with significantly decreased risk of shortened telomeres (along the lines of 30-35%). It is worth noting that the specific omega-3s measured in the blood of the participants were EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are particularly important omega-3s and the primary omega-3s that scientists study when they study omega-3s in fish like salmon and halibut.
It’s fascinating to see a relationship between the omega-3 levels in our body and the rate at which our cells age! We’re not talking about the risk of a specific disease here, but about aging itself, and the ability of our cells to thrive as we get older. Even if we are not concerned about the risk of any particular disease, we apparently cannot expect to age healthfully unless we pay attention to our omega-3 intake. These California researchers did not tackle the question of how many omega-3s we need in our diet to keep our blood levels healthy, but previous research has shown that two weekly 8-ounce servings of a food rich in omega-3s like salmon can more than double the amount of EPA in our bloodstream and increase our blood DHA by about 45% in a period of several months. WHFoods Recommendations Even if you are not worried about your risk of a specific disease like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, keeping your omega-3 intake strong is important for staying healthy as you age. The ability of your cells to continue reproducing healthily as you get older is linked to the amount of omega-3s in your diet!
Although the Dietary Reference Intake levels for omega-3s are 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men, we recommend that you try to exceed these levels, and build your intake to at least 2 grams of omega-3s per day. Optimal levels may actually be higher still, and closer to 2% of your total calories. For example, if you consume 1,500 calories per day, that percentage translates into approximately 3 grams of omega-3s. If you consume 2,000 calories, that percentage would mean about 4 grams.
Flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and halibut are among the foods containing particularly large amounts of omega-3s. You can get 2 grams in a 4-ounce serving of salmon all by itself!
All of our posts reflect our philosophy at A Healthy View www.ahealthyview.com A whole real food perspective on food and life. Extremes do not work but clean, whole, tasty and easy food choices can create a lifetime of good habits that lead to a lean, happy, and healthy person. Contact us on our website for our next Low Sugar Lifestyle program or a nutritional consult. Article by Michele Chevalley Hedge.
Farzaneh-Far R, Lin J, Epel ES et al. Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric ageing in patients with coronary heart disease. JAMA. 2010 Jan 20;303(3):250-7. 2010.