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Omega-3 fatty acid consumption reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and all causes. By reducing inflammation, lengthening telomeres, and blunting the body’s response to stress, omega-3 fatty acids lessen the effects of aging on a cellular level. Authors of a recent study tested the effects of omega-3 supplementation on inflammation and telomere length in response to stress.

Telomeres are often compared to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces (aiglets) because telomeres protect chromosomes from fraying on the ends. Both acute and chronic stress increase inflammation, which can cause chromosomes to become frayed when telomeres are short. Once chromosomes lose their telomeres, their DNA cannot be replicated, and this accelerates aging.

The randomized, controlled intervention trial included 138 sedentary, adults with overweight between the ages of 40 and 85 years. The participants received daily supplements providing 2.5 grams of omega-3s, 1.25 grams of omega-3s, or a placebo for four months. Before and after the intervention, the participants took the Trier Social Stress Test, a testing platform in which a person must deliver a speech and perform mental arithmetic in front of an audience. Participants also provided blood and saliva samples as a means to measure cortisol (a stress hormone), telomerase (an enzyme that helps maintain telomere length); anti-inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin (IL)-10 (IL-10); and pro-inflammatory cytokines, including IL-6, IL-12, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha).

Following the stress test, participants in the placebo group experienced a 24 percent reduction in telomerase activity and a 26 reduction in IL-10; however, both omega-3 groups were protected from this response. This relationship was statistically significant and accounted for baseline stress reactivity, age, waist circumference, and sex. Participants who received 2.5 grams of omega-3s had a 19 percent reduction in cortisol levels and a 33 percent reduction in IL-6 compared to the placebo group.

The authors concluded that by reducing inflammation and stress hormone levels, omega-3 supplementation may boost cellular repair and slow aging. This decrease in stress response may also translate to reduced risk of depression, making these findings relevant to mental health as well.

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