Senior Health : Omega-3 Supplementation and Aging

Written by Brenda Watson

With the brain benefits of omega-3 fatty acids ever increasing, studies of the effects of omega-3s in older people continue to emerge. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrition, people over the age of 65 with higher blood levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) also exhibited slower cellular aging, as marked by a reduction in the shortening of telomeres, DNA strands at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells age. In general, shortened telomeres are a sign of aging and cell damage.

"It is becoming increasingly evident that damage specific to the telomeric ends of chromosomes is one of the most critical events that initiate genome instability leading to accelerated aging, cognitive decline, and neurodegenerative disease," stated the researchers.

In the study, 33 people over age 65 with mild cognitive impairment were randomly assigned to one of three groups: One group received omega-3 EPA, one received omega-3 DHA, and the third received omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) daily for six months. At the end of the study, the omega-6 group showed the greatest shortening of telomeres compared to both the EPA and DHA group.

"Specifically, increasing omega-3 PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acid] intake via supplementation may attenuate telomere shortening that occurs with age. These data build on current epidemiological evidence and recent reports linking increased marine omega-3 PUFA with decreased telomere attrition," they stated.

In another recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers analyzed data from over 2,000 elderly people who were followed for five years. The scientists found that those people who had the highest blood levels of omega-3—DHA in particular—had a 40 percent reduced risk of small brain infarcts than did those with the lowest levels. Brain infarcts are lesions in the brain that can cause cognitive dysfunction, dementia, and stroke.

"Our findings in these older men and women suggest that circulating long-chain omega-3 PUFA concentrations, a biomarker of regular fish consumption, are associated with lower risk and could be beneficial for the prevention of certain subclinical brain abnormalities that are commonly observed in the elderly," stated the authors.

These studies add to a large body of evidence in support of increasing consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish and fish oil—EPA and DHA. From infancy through old age, this is one supplement you will want to take throughout your life cycles.
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