Omega-3s are essential fats with many health-promoting properties. In addition to their important role in the proper functioning of the heart and brain, these fats could also participate in the protection of our genetic material, via the telomeres, and thus protect us from the effects of aging.
Omega-3s are essential fats that we cannot make on our own and therefore must come from our diet. There are two main types of omega-3: short-chain plant-based omega-3s, found mainly in flaxseeds and certain nuts (walnuts in particular) and animal-based omega-3s, long-chain, present almost exclusively in oily fish.
The many health benefits of omega-3s
Several studies have shown that long-chain omega-3s play many positive roles in the proper functioning of our body: they are absolutely essential for the development of the brain and retinal cells during pregnancy; they play a crucial role in the transmission of nerve impulses by promoting better communication between brain cells. They regulate heart rhythm and also act as powerful anti-inflammatory molecules.
So, even if fats have acquired a bad reputation over the last decades, we must not forget that omega-3 fats are, on the contrary, absolutely essential for the maintenance of good health and that we must carry pay particular attention to regularly consuming foods that contain significant amounts of these fats.
A multitude of studies have shown that, in people with cardiovascular disease, a high consumption of omega-3 of animal origin considerably reduces the risk of recurrence and improves survival. The data we currently have indicates that the antiarrhythmic and anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fats play an important role in this protective effect; however, the diversity of targets affected by omega-3s suggests that other processes may also mediate these preventive properties.
The more omega-3s, the longer the telomeres.
To better understand the mechanisms affected by omega-3s, researchers at the University of California have examined the relationship between the consumption of these fats and the length of telomeres – structures located at the ends of our chromosomes which are considered markers of cell aging. Indeed, the gradual loss of telomeres is a key factor in the aging of our organism and the presence of short telomeres very often reflects the extent of the damage suffered by a cell and its premature aging.
By following 608 patients who had suffered a heart attack for five years, the researchers observed that the people who had the highest omega-3 levels had the longest telomeres, whereas at the conversely low omega-3 levels were associated with shorter telomeres. It therefore seems that the protective effect of omega-3s against recurrences of heart disease is linked, at least in part, to a slowing down of cell aging through the preservation of telomeres.
Two oily fish per week
These observations add to the impressive range of protective effects of omega-3s against the development of a range of chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and several types of cancer. There is therefore no doubt that the consumption of one to two meals of oily fish per week, which is far from excessive, constitutes an important addition to our eating habits in order to prevent the development of these diseases.
Farzaneh-Far et al. Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease. JAMA, 303:250-7.
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