Despite downright silly and inaccurate headlines just a few weeks ago proclaiming that fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids are a waste of money, now comes research that reveals the opposite. Taking enough of these supplements appears to have enormous health benefits — including dramatic anti-aging effects.
Last month, Natural News told readers the truth about a much ballyhooed previous study which, according to the inaccurate reporting by mainstream media, meant taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements (almost always in the form of fish oil) was a waste of money and did nothing to protect health (http://www.naturalnews.com). In fact, the study was not the last word about fish oil supplements at all and even the researchers who conducted it didn’t make that claim.
It was a meta-analysis of studies involving close to 70,000 people all lumped together and included research subjects who had only taken omega-3 supplements for a short while. Some took very little. Even the authors of the study noted that “…an individual patient data meta-analysis would be more appropriate to refine possible associations related to, among others, dose, adherence, baseline intake, and cardiovascular disease risk group.” But that didn’t stop the media from ignoring that important point and proclaiming, as ABC News did, that omega-3s are “not a lifesaver” and do nothing for health in general.
Now, a new study by Ohio State University researchers (just published online in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity) found that overweight but healthy middle-aged and older adults who took a substantial amount (either 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams) of omega-3 supplements regularly for four months altered a ratio of their fatty acid consumption in a way that boosted preservation of tiny DNA segments in their white blood cells.
What does this mean specifically? These miniscule DNA bits are known as telomeres. They shorten over time in many types of cells as a consequence of aging. Stopping this shortening of telomeres has long been thought to be a key to halting the aging process or at least slowing it down.
The Ohio State scientists found that lengthening of telomeres in immune system cells was more prevalent in people who substantially improved the ratio of omega-3s to other fatty acids in their diet. What’s more, the substantial and regular supplementation also reduced oxidative stress, known to be caused by excessive free radicals in the blood, by about 15 percent compared to the oxidative stress measured in a control group of research subjects who received placebos instead of real supplements.
“The telomere finding is provocative in that it suggests the possibility that a nutritional supplement might actually make a difference in aging,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, in a media statement.
In yet another finding from this study, Kiecolt-Glaser’s research team reported that omega-3 fatty acid supplements lowered inflammation in this same group of adults. This blows the assertion that fish oil has no heart benefits out of the water.
“Inflammation in particular is at the heart of so many health problems. Anything that reduces inflammation has a lot of potentially good spinoffs among older adults,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. She added that people who are less healthy — especially those who are under chronic stress — may gain even more benefits from omega-3 supplementation.
The scientists also found that decreases in an inflammatory marker in the blood called interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the people taking omega-3 supplements were associated with telomere lengthening. In their earlier paper on omega-3s and inflammation, the same researchers had already reported that omega-3 supplements lowered IL-6 by 10 to 12 percent, depending on the dose. By comparison, those taking a placebo saw an overall 36 percent increase in inflammation-linked IL-6 by the end of the study.
“This finding strongly suggests that inflammation is what’s driving the changes in the telomeres,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
The researchers concluded that this combination of powerful and healthy effects suggests that taking omega-3 supplements could represent a rare, single nutritional intervention that has potential to provide extraordinary health benefits. Specifically, taking these supplements regularly may lower the risk for a host of diseases associated with aging, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and even mind-robbing Alzheimer’s disease.