Fish Oil: The Secret to Long Life

Omega-3s Might Turn Back the Clock

New research pools together all the relevant studies on how fish oil and omega-3s affect your DNA. The findings will leave you gobsmacked.


Fish Oil and Shoelaces

Remember the last pair of frayed shoelaces you had? The little plastic thingies at the ends of the laces – known as aglets – gradually flaked away, leaving you with a clump of unruly fibers that made it hard to thread the laces through the eyelets of your Chucks. If you have ever had that experience, you’re on the cusp of gaining an understanding of how chromosomes age and deteriorate.

Here’s why: At the end of each chromosomal arm or “lace” is a specialized structure known as a telomere that’s composed of a specific sequence of nucleotides and associated proteins. In effect, it’s one of the chromosome’s “aglets,” and every time a cell divides, this mock aglet gets shorter.

If they get too short, they can start to unfold. It’s the biological equivalent of that frayed end of a shoelace, only instead of causing you to trip and fall into a canal, they wreak havoc on your health.

On average, each cell is gifted with about 15,000 base pairs (the pairs of nucleotides connecting complementary strands of DNA or RNA), and each time a cell divides, we lose about 250 of them. This phenomenon is called the “end-replication problem.”

In effect, the chromosomes are being worn down to the nub. The short telomeres that caused the chromosomal fraying lead to something called “replicative senescence,” which means the cell’s too damn old to divide. Genetic instability ensues, possibly leading to cancer, cellular old age, or programmed cell self-destruction (apoptosis). Tissue growth or repair is handicapped, if not completely knee-capped.

If enough of these cells reach replicative senescence, the organ or system to which they belong might fail, leading to disease or death.

Too bad you can’t just swap out frayed telomeres with a fresh set of laces and brand-spanking new aglets from The Shoe Barn and reset this biological clock. But there’s hope. Scientists don’t know if it’s possible to lengthen telomeres, but they do know that we can at least prevent them from shortening.

One thing that keeps coming up long-telomere-stemmed roses in regard to attenuating shortening is omega-3 fatty acids, of which fish oil is a primary source.

A Real-Life Version of Blade Runner

“The degree of telomere shortening is proportional to the risk of death…” So said the authors of a new paper on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on telomeres. (Ogluszka, et al, 2022)

You need to understand that this wasn’t some weak paper reporting the results of omega-3 fatty acids on a single group of three or four down-on-their-luck mice who had volunteered to be part of a scientific study. Nope, this was one of those elegant studies that looks at all the studies on a particular subject, including humans and animals.

Before they presented the research, though, the authors first had to tackle the question of exactly how telomere length relates to senescence. The news is humbling. They offered that all human non-reproductive cells (everything except eggs and sperm) are slaves to something called the Hayflick limit.

Named for scientist Leonard Hayflick, the Hayflick limit says that human cells can only divide a certain number of times. In the case of fibroblasts (cells that form connective tissue), they can only divide about 50 times, plus or minus 10 or so. Once the cells are shortened beyond a critical length, the whole process of division falls apart.

The idea that we’re all nothing but sophisticated wind-up clocks is humbling. It’s like the movie Blade Runner brought to life, and we’re all just replicants with a pre-programmed lifespan. However, rather than tacitly accept our fate and say, “Time to die,” there appear to be some things that at least slow down the clock and possibly turn it back, omega-3s among them.

Old People, Chinese People, Fat Kids, and Testicles Too

Ogluszka and her colleagues offered a sizeable mound of evidence supporting the role of omega-3s on telomere length, starting with a study of more than 600 patients with coronary artery disease (CAD). (Farzaneh-Far et al. 2010) The scientists found strong evidence for an association between omega-3 fatty acid consumption and telomere length.

Likewise, a Chinese study compared 711 patients with CAD to 638 CAD-free controls and found levels of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, positively correlated with telomere length. (Chang, et al. 2020)

“What about fat kids?” is probably what you’re asking. Maybe not. Still, omega-3s seem to affect their telomere length too. A study involving forty-six obese 3 to 4-year-olds found that they had shorter telomeres (in leukocytes, aka white blood cells) and lower intakes of DHA than age and sex-matched children of normal weight. (Liu, 2021)

Still another study showed that telomere shortening in whole blood can be remedied by the inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. (O’Callaghan, et al. 2014) Forty-four elderly people were divvied up into three groups: a diet rich in omega-6s, an EPA group (1.67 g of EPA plus 0.40 grams of DHA daily), and a DHA group (1.55 g of DHA plus 0.40 g of EPA daily).

Positive changes in telomere length were seen in the group that had the greatest increases in red blood cell DHA levels. And there are plenty of other corroborating studies, too.

To be fair, several studies found no correlation between telomere length and omega-3 fatty acids, but Ogluszka’s group was unshaken in their beliefs about the association, reasoning that these outlier studies used different methods to assess the effects of omega-3s (food-frequency questionnaires, gas chromatography, mass spectroscopy, etc.), any of which could have resulted in discrepancies.

Several rodent studies have also been conducted on the association. I won’t test your tolerance for minutiae further, but I do want to point out two interesting findings. One was from a study on omega-3s and telomere attrition on rat testicles that found a positive association between the two.

I only include that because the idea that omega-3s might extend the health of my testicles is comforting to me and possibly you.

More importantly, though, that same rodent study found that omega-3 supplementation not only reduced the rate of telomere attrition, it also elongated hepatic (liver) telomeres. Yeah, you read that right – omega 3s might reverse the aging process.

DNA-Gains

Do Certain Things Accelerate Telomere Shortening?

Everybody with an IQ that has a fightin’ chance of hitting three digits knows that smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, and lack of exercise are contrary to the goal of living above ground for a long time.

One of the reasons all those aforementioned abuses of your body are bad is because they all cause inflammation and oxidative stress, each of which contributes to telomere shortening. What happens is that inflammation spurs the production of “radical oxygen species” (ROS) and they, in turn, shorten telomeres. One theory, tossed out by Ogluszka and her team, is that this oxidative stress puts the kibosh on cells, causing the survivors to undergo more cell divisions, thereby getting closer to their Hayflick limit.

Another theory is that ROS attack the telomere directly, causing breaks in individual strands, which messes up the whole replication process and leads to additional telomere shortening.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), especially omega-3s, however, are associated with lower levels of pro-inflammatory markers (IL-6, IL-1ra, TNF, and CRP), along with higher levels of several anti-inflammatory markers, among them soluble IL-6r, IL-10, and TGF-beta.

Lastly, omega-3s might just plain slow down the rate of cell division, as several studies seem to indicate.

Death From All Causes

Clearly – unless you’re a chronic skeptic or naysayer – it’s a good idea to make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of omega-3s in your diet. Not only do they appear to preserve or even lengthen telomeres, they also appear to extend life in the following ways:

  • High levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure and triglycerides while making platelets less “sticky” (thus making strokes less likely).
  • High levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower chronically elevated levels of mTOR, thus showing benefits against metabolic syndrome and other conditions/diseases (in addition to depression).

Harris, et al. synopsized their effects this way (2021):

“In summary, in a global pooled analysis of prospective studies, LC (long chain) n-3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) levels were inversely associated with risk for death from all causes…”

What’s the Best Way to Get More Omega 3s (Along with One Piece of Important Advice)?

The predominant source of omega-3s is the oil from cold-water fish. You could probably do acceptably well just by eating a can of salmon or tuna every day, assuming you could somehow ensure you were, in the case of the latter, buying a brand that had low levels of mercury (which could, if it accumulates in your body, negatively affect your health).

Supplementation, though, appears to be the most efficient route, especially since current fish oil technology is pretty advanced. Each serving of Biotest’s Flameout® contains an oceanic amount of omega 3s – a combined 3,080 mg. of EPA and DHA. (By way of comparison, a 6-ounce can of tuna has between 300 and 500 mg., depending on whether it’s packed in water or olive oil.)

Add to that Flameout’s high processing standards. It’s purified by molecular distillation and stringently tested for PCBs, dioxins, mercury, and other heavy metal contaminants. It also incorporates a self-emulsifying delivery system to make the product virtually odorless and better absorbed so that it doesn’t result in a fishy aftertaste or “fish burps.”

One serving of Flameout is theoretically more than enough to quell inflammation and hopefully extend the life of telomeres, along with doing all the other things omega-3s are famous for.

But regardless of whether you decide to use Flameout, specifically, I offer this one additional piece of important advice regarding fish oil supplements in general: Fish oil needs to be ingested with some additional fat. Otherwise, it doesn’t percolate down into its favorite tissue and cell destinations.

A recent paper (Li, et al. 2021) offered plenty of proof, but it’s largely unknown or ignored by virtually all dietitians, nutritionists, and supplement experts. I won’t drone on about the specific findings, though, because the article you’re reading is already long enough.

Suffice it to say that, in practical terms, it means that popping a couple of fish oil capsules after eating your low-fat breakfast of oatmeal, egg whites, and blanched asparagus nibs isn’t going to let fish oil do its job. Instead, take it with your highest-fat meal of the day, which is usually dinner. Alternately, take it with a morning, mid-day, or evening protein shake that’s been laced with a tablespoon or two of olive oil.

Slow Down Time, or Better Yet, Reverse It

The results of increasing omega-3 consumption appear to be extremely promising, so regardless of whether you do it with supplements or by eating large quantities of cold-water fish, do it. Do it for your chromosomal aglets. Do it to ameliorate the stress you put your body through. And do it to increase not only your lifespan but your health-span too.

References

References

  1. Ogłuszka M et al. Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Telomeres: Are They the Elixir of Youth? Nutrients. 2022 Sep 9;14(18):3723. PubMed.
  2. Li J et al. Health benefits of docahexaenoic acid and its bioavailability: A review. Food Sci Nutr. 2021 Jul 23;9(9):5229-5243. PMC.
  3. Harris WS et al. Blood n-3 fatty acid levels and total and cause-specific mortality from 17 prospective studies. Nat Commun. 2021 Apr 22;12(1):2329. PubMed.
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My hormone doc put me on fish oil in April when my triglycerides were 330 I took it for a few months and she retested and my triglycerides were 107🙌🏼

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what do you think of the recents reports linking fish oil supplements with atrial fibrillation?

Are you kidding? That’s great!

You know, I don’t know what to make of yet. There are other reports of it doing the exact opposite, so I guess we need to wait until something definitive (if that’s even possible) comes out.

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This is very interesting, new research. Thank you for sharing. I’m particularly interested in more information about Omega-3 needing additional fat for proper assimilation. You suggested omega-6 but previous studies have shown omega-3’s and 6’s compete for the same cellular receptor sites. Maybe another type of fat would be better? I did not know about the cited research but I usually consume with some form of grass fed beef, poultry or dairy (saturated fat). Good to learn that has been a net gain.

Great article! Is there an optimal dose? Do the beneficial effects top out after a certain level?

Yep, should have clarified that in this article. Saturated fat or mono-saturated fat is the way to go for enhanced fish oil absorption.

Not sure there’s much benefit in going beyond a combined 3 grams of EPA + DHA. (Thanks!)

Great article, although my understanding is that the process of ‘canning’ tuna destroys the EPA and DHA?

Soy lecithin would work very well. As an emulsifier (and n3/n6 fat source) it is very good at increasing transport of fats and fat soluble nutrients. It’s also under-loved as an anabolic supplement being the only good natural source of phosphatidic acid.

Man, it’s a pisser, isn’t it? Some of the research says it does and some says it doesn’t. Some says that frying destroys them, too, which is also disturbing to hear. We have a few choices: Eat sushi. Continue to eat canned tuna and salmon and hope for the best. Use supplements. Or cook our fish minimally and again hope for the best.

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That’s interesting. I’ll look into that. Thanks!

I used this as an excuse to have some gelato with my Flameout last night.

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You know, I actually had to look up how gelato was made. That’s how naive I am when it comes to fun foods.

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It doesn’t specify if Flameout is in the triglyceride form. If it is, what’s the percentage of the omega-3 that is in triglyceride form?

Is there an optimal amount of fat to have with dinner to maximize the benefits of consuming fish oil with it?

Yes, it’s extremely concentrated, re-esterified triglycerides. You have to realize, we’re a small company. No board of directors, no marketing department. When we choose to make a supplement, it’s first and foremost because WE want to use it ourselves. What I’m trying to say is that we don’t cut corners to make crappy and ineffectual stuff,

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I think the amount is unknown and probably differs from person to person. I suggest taking them with your fattiest meal of the day.

I have had occasional bouts of tachycardia since I’m 19 (and that’s a long while ago ha ha), and I haven’t had any in at least 4 years… It might just be the fish oil! I never made a link before. It doesn’t mean it’s that of course, but hey, I’l take it.