Add this to the approximately 8 billion benefits of omega-3 fatty acids: They could help preserve DNA segments known as telomeres, whose degradation is a key marker of aging. Shorter telomeres are associated with age-related decline, cancer and a higher risk of death (in one study of people over 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from an infectious disease). But according to Ohio State University scientists, taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements (such as fish oil pills) can help lengthen telomeres in middle-aged and older adults.
"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, a professor at Ohio State and lead author of the study.
All of the study participants - average age 51 - were relatively healthy, despite being either overweight or obese and living sedentary lives (people on mood, cholesterol or blood pressure medication were excluded, as well as regular fish oil users, people who exercised regularly, diabetics, smokers, vegetarians and those with a body mass index below 22.5 or above 40). For four months, those in the noncontrol group took either 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered "good fats." The control group got pills containing a mix of fatty acids representing a typical American's daily intake.
At the end of the study, the group taking omega-3 supplements showed significant telomere lengthening. They also showed 15 percent reduction in oxidative stress in their blood (a process linked to everything from cancer to Alzheimer's disease) along with decreased inflammation.
"Inflammation in particular is at the heart of so many health problems," said Kiecolt-Glaser. "Anything that reduces inflammation has a lot of potentially good spinoffs among older adults."
Wednesday Quick Hits:
- Joe Biden, sex symbol? According to Politico, older women tend to swoon for the 70-year-old vice president during campaign stops. "Joe Biden's bringing sexy back - to the Medicare-eligible set," writes Jonathan Allen. The Obama campaign declined to comment for the story.
- 10 things you may not know about older people. The Huffington Post rounds up some of the more surprising or interesting tidbits from the United Nation's global aging report, released Monday. Did you know that in 1910, life expectancy for the average Chilean female was just 33 years? Today it's 82 years.
Photo: Neville Mountford-Hoare/PhotoAlto/ Getty Images