·   A fish oil nutrient called omega-3 buffers against changing levels of markers for accelerated aging.
·   Supplementation with Omega-3 may reduce inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol response that can facilitate age-related diseases like heart ailments.
·   Omega-3 usage may also preserve DNA and chromosome health for healthy aging.

If you take more omega-3 — a key nutrient found in fish oil — than 80% of people in the US, you’re likely to have a lower risk of death from heart disease by about 15% to 18%. However, whether omega-3 fights off specific markers of biological aging has been unclear and had not been studied until now.

Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues from The Ohio State University published a clinical study (NCT00385723) in Molecular Psychiatry showing that omega-3 offsets various markers of aging: reduced levels of telomere length and increased levels of stress hormones and inflammation. In middle-aged, sedentary, overweight participants, supplementation of omega-3 for four months lowered inflammation and stress hormone levels and maintains the activity of the enzyme that preserves chromosome ends.

“The findings suggest that omega-3 supplementation is one relatively simple change people could make that could have a positive effect at breaking the chain between stress and negative health effects,” said Annelise Madison, lead author of the paper and a graduate student in clinical psychology at Ohio State.

A Social Stressor Induces Responses Linked to Accelerated Aging

Since stress induces aging-related changes in the body, Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues wanted to find out how omega-3 supplementation affected the body’s stress response. So, they had the participants give a speech without using notes in front of judges and a video camera and after their speech, subtract numbers out loud.  Before and after subjecting the participants to stressful activities, Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues measured several markers of stress, including the stress hormone cortisol, a marker of inflammation called interleukin-6, and activity of telomerase — the telomere-maintaining enzyme. 

Omega-3 Maintains Telomerase Activity Under Stress

After the social stressor task, Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues then used saliva to measure levels of telomerase to see what effect omega-3 has on telomere repair activity. In a group of individuals that did not receive omega-3 supplements, between 45 to 120 minutes after the stressor, the research team found that telomerase levels sharply declined. However, participants supplementing with omega-3 didn’t have these drops in telomerase levels. These findings suggest that omega-3 supplementation preserves chromosome integrity under duress in part by maintaining telomerase levels. 

(Madison et al., 2021 | Molecular Psychiatry) Omega-3 supplementation protects against a drop in levels of the chromosome health maintenance enzyme telomerase. Supplementing with either 2.5 or 1.25 grams per day of omega-3 prevented changes in telomerase levels following a social stressor. In contrast, without omega-3 supplementation, telomerase levels plummeted by 24% around 120 minutes after a social stressor. These findings indicate that omega-3 can buffer against chromosome damage from telomerase level reductions initiated by social stressors.

Omega-3 Attenuates the Stress Hormone Response

Also from the participants’ saliva, the researchers measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has a role in the development of heart disease and premature aging. Kiecolt and colleagues found that although omega-3 did not impact overall cortisol levels under normal circumstances before being stressed, it lowered cortisol levels following stress. The findings here suggest that omega-3 supplementation can mitigate the body’s detrimental stress hormone response to social stress, which may diminish the adverse health impact of stress-induced hormone release on the cardiovascular system and accelerated aging.

(Madison et al., 2021 | Molecular Psychiatry) Supplementing with omega-3 lowered levels of the heart disease-facilitating stress hormone cortisol following a stress-inducing task. Supplementing with the high dosage of omega-3 (2.5 grams per day) lowered cortisol levels in saliva by 19% after the social stressor. The lower omega-3 dosage (1.25 grams per day) did not affect the salivary cortisol levels. These findings show that supplementing with higher doses of omega-3 can protect against increases in cortisol levels after stressors that facilitate heart disease and accelerated aging.

Omega-3 Mitigates Inflammation

The last aging-related marker that Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues measured in the context of omega-3 supplementation was interleukin-6, an inflammatory molecule. The research team found that the high omega-3 dosage (2.5 grams per day) reduced interleukin-6 levels by 33% after social stress but that the lesser omega-3 dosage of 1.25 grams per day resulted in no changes in interleukin-6 levels. These findings suggest that high dosage omega-3 supplementation can combat stress-induced inflammation that drives premature aging.

(Madison et al., 2021 | Molecular Psychiatry) Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation induced by stressors. Supplementing with a higher dosage of omega-3 (2.5 grams per day) lowered interleukin-6 inflammation marker levels by 33% following a social stressor. Supplementing with the lower dosage of omega-3 (1.25 grams per day) did not affect levels of interleukin 6. These findings indicate that higher doses of omega-3 supplementation can substantially inhibit the accumulation of accelerated aging marker interleukin 6 and reduce stress-initiated inflammation.

Can Omega-3 Buffer Against Accelerated Aging?

“Our results suggest that omega-3 may directly modulate the inflammatory stress response,” said Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues in their publication.

The research team showed that omega-3 supplementation also buffers against the drop in telomere repairing enzyme telomerase levels and elevations in the stress hormone cortisol, both of which are mediators of accelerated aging.

With most adults in the US consuming around 3% to 4% of the 500 mg/day of omega-3 recommended values, these findings suggest that supplementing with the nutrient alone could protect against negative health consequences from stressors. It could also limit accelerated aging from chromosome decay and inflammation and prevent age-related diseases like heart problems, cognitive dysfunction, and metabolic disease.