“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, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State and lead author of the study.
Telomeres are a hot topic in science, and their tendency to shorten is associated with such age-related problems as heart disease and early mortality. These short fragments of DNA act as caps at the end of chromosomes, and can be likened to the protective plastic at the end of a shoelace.
In another recent publication from this study, Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues reported that omega-3 fatty acid supplements lowered inflammation in this same group of adults.
“Inflammation in particular is at the heart of so many health problems. Anything that reduces inflammation has a lot of potentially good spinoffs among older adults,” she said.
Study participants took either 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams of active omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are considered “good fats” that, when consumed in proper quantities, are associated with a variety of health benefits. Participants on the placebo took pills containing a mix of oils representing a typical American’s daily intake.
The researchers say this combination of effects suggests that omega-3 supplements could represent a rare single nutritional intervention that has potential to lower the risk for a host of diseases associated with aging, such as coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study is published online and scheduled for later print publication in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.