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Protect Your Telomeres with Omega-3s

Nobel Prize Winner, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn
June 19, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Maybe you’ve noticed that certain friends or family members seem to age more slowly than others.

I see the same thing in my patients. Some stay vibrant and youthful into their seventh – even eighth! – decade.

What’s the secret to staying healthy and strong through the years? Telomeres!

Telomeres are the tiny “protective caps” on the tips of your chromosomes. Their job is to prevent your cells from making faulty copies of themselves.

Each time a cell duplicates itself, the telomere attached to it oversees the process to prevent mistakes. Just one tiny error in cell duplication can accelerate aging and lead to diseases down the road.

That’s why it’s so important to keep telomeres strong and healthy.

But every time a cell divides, its telomere becomes shorter. Eventually it fails, leaving you vulnerable to inflammation, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and other serious ailments.

There are tens of thousands of research papers on telomeres. Until recently, strenuous exercise and calorie restriction (reducing daily calories 30 percent) seemed to be the only ways to protect telomeres from shortening.

But now there’s another option I think you should know about.

When it comes to protecting telomeres, here’s my secret weapon – omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) – something I recommend to nearly every patient.

EFAs are essential for healthy aging. These fats are used to manufacture strong, flexible cell membranes. They also provide protection against:

  • Inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis);
  • High triglycerides (blood fats);
  • Certain types of cancer;
  • Mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder;
  • Blood clots;
  • Memory and attention span issues.

And that’s not all ….

A new study from Ohio State University has found that omega-3 supplements protect your all-important telomeres from everyday wear and tear.

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Another clinical trial found that individuals taking omega-3 supplements actually lost the least telomere length, profoundly slowing the aging process at the cellular level! To my knowledge, this is a true milestone, and something no prescription drug can accomplish.

You can get omega-3s from eating certain types of fish, including salmon, sardines, herring, and trout. A few years ago, I recommended eating fish more often to my patients. But no longer.

Nowadays, the ocean, as well as freshwater lakes and rivers, are all polluted with industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and waste, making fish off limits to anyone concerned about health.

Fortunately, pure omega-3s, free of pollutants and other toxins, are available as supplements.

But here’s the best news — I’ve found an excellent way to increase EFAs’ effectiveness and boost your overall health.

Last year, Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., the researcher who shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering how chromosomes are protected by telomeres, and her colleagues at University of California San Francisco, published a new study.

Their research showed that cutting back on omega-6s and increasing intake of omega-3s actually lengthened telomeres in a group of sedentary, overweight, middle age and older individuals.

In addition, markers for three serious age-related issues – inflammation, damaging free radicals, and aging immune cells –all improved in the group with fewer omega-6s and more omega-3s.

Omega-6s are found mostly in cheap vegetable oils used in processed and prepared foods. Think soybean, safflower, corn, sunflower, and cottonseed oils.

Omega-6s aren’t bad. But when your diet is low in balancing omega-3s, the omega-6s end up stimulating inflammation – exactly the opposite of what’s best for your health.

Since omega-6s are so common in the Standard American Diet (SAD), they overwhelm omega-3s, leaving very little opportunity for these good fats to connect with your cells, where they can benefit telomeres.

The ideal ratio of omega-6s to 3s is 2:1. For too many Americans, it’s closer to 20:1, favoring the omega 6s. This is why we doctors are seeing so much heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and many other inflammatory conditions.

That’s why I always encourage my patients – and readers – to cut back on processed, prepared, and fast foods. One delicious way to do that is with the Mediterranean diet.You’ll not only eliminate unhealthy refined grains, sugar, and salt from your diet, but also give the omega-3s plenty of opportunity to work their magic.

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