All of us are getting older, but it sure beats the alternative! At the same time, it’s safe to say most people would like a way to turn back the clock, or at least slow it down significantly.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a dietary substance and natural supplement that have demonstrated a lot of promise in the aging department. You can choose to get these essential fats (alpha-linolenic [ALA], eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA], and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) from your menu choices (e.g., fish such as salmon and sardines; flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans), from a pure supplement (e.g., fish and/or flax oils, such as Barlean’s), or from both. When you do, your body and brain will appreciate the difference.
If you consume enough omega-3 fatty acids, you may actually slow aging by preserving your telomeres. These minute segments of DNA in your cells are known to grow shorter as you age.
Results of a recent study at Ohio State University suggest that individuals who improved the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to other fatty acids (i.e., omega-6) in their diet showed a more prevalent lengthening of telomeres than people who did not change their fatty acid ratio (omega-3:omega-6). The improvements were seen in participants who took either 1.25 grams or 2.5 grams of omega-3s when compared with placebo.
The same researchers at Ohio State University who made the telomere finding also reported that omega-3s reduced inflammation in their study participants. This discovery alone is highly important because, as the study’s lead researcher, Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, noted, “Anything that reduces inflammation has a lot of potentially good spinoffs among older adults,” including coronary heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Are your joints feeling creaking and achy? Has your doctor diagnosed you with some form of arthritis? Don’t let it get you down! Numerous studies, including a recent one conducted in the United Kingdom, found that omega-3 fatty acids prompt actions that fight inflammation, especially in rheumatoid arthritis, which is characterized by painful, swollen joints.
Let’s not leave out osteoarthritis. Although the research in this area is less robust, scientists are beginning to see benefits from omega-3s in this common form of arthritis. A new study in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, for example, reports that dietary omega-3 fatty acids have a role in the severity of osteoarthritis following injury to the joints, indicating that experts need to take a closer look at how these fatty acids can be a used as a therapy for osteoarthritis.
A newly published review of research that looked at the effect of omega-3s on cognitive function shows that the fatty acids provide a protective role “in mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and the risk and progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.” That’s reassuring given the projected increase in the number of people who are expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in the coming years. There’s no time like the present to be sure you get enough of these fatty acids and in a healthy ratio with omega-6 fatty acids.
What about loneliness-related memory problems? Loneliness is a significant problem among older adults, and it’s been shown to enhance the risk for a decline in memory over time. A new report in Psychosomatic Medicine notes that omega-3 supplementation (1.25 grams or 2.5 grams daily) for four months attenuated loneliness-related episodic memory issues among lonely adults.
Heart disease and stroke are near the top of the list of critical health issues when we think of aging. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied extensively for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, with the majority of the research involving intake from diet and/or supplementation with EPA and DHA.
Among the popular dietary ways to get your omega-3s is the Mediterranean diet, which places emphasis on whole foods, fish, and healthy fats. The authors of a new review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition state that “a strict adherence to the Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet) has repeatedly been linked to a low risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Read about the 10 best sources of omega-3s
It isn’t possible to stop your aging clock, but you can slow it down considerably if you include omega-3 fatty acids in your lifestyle. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating at least two servings (3.5 ounces of cooked fish) per week, especially fatty fish like salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, and herring. If you elect to take omega-3 supplements (fish oil), the AHA suggests no more than 3 grams daily and to consult your physician about your specific needs.
For vegetarians and vegans, alternatives to fish as a source of omega-3 are plants that provide ALA, such as flaxseed, soybeans, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and olive oil, while some veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower contain low levels of this omega-3 as well. The body must convert ALA to EPA and DHA and the conversion rate is low, which means intake of ALA should be considerably higher than that of fish oil supplements. One easy way to bypass that concern is to look for vegan omega-3 supplements that provide both EPA and DHA.
[Editor’s Note: If you want to learn more about Omega -3s, click here to sign up for Naturally Savvy’s Omega-3 Get Healthy Challenge.]
Image: Kayla Kandzorra