Science Update

High-Dose Omega-3 Supplementation May Promote Healthy Aging by Protecting Against Stress

According to a new study published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal, researchers found that daily, high-dose supplementation of omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may help the body resist the detrimental effects of stress and help slow the aging process at the cellular level. 

In a randomized, controlled trial, researchers sought to evaluate whether n-3 supplementation can alter the stress responsivity of telomerase, cortisol, and inflammation by examining the impact of n-3 on cellular aging-related biomarkers before and after an experimental stressor. Researchers stated that “higher levels of omega-3 track with longer telomeres, lower inflammation, and blunted sympathetic and cardiovascular stress reactivity.” This study consisted of 138 middle-aged sedentary and obese individuals (ages, 40 to 85 years) who participated in the Trier Social Stress Test. This 20-minute test is known to reliably induce an inflammatory response. For 4 months, the study participants took either 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams of n-3s daily or a placebo of blended oils representing the typical intake of the standard American diet and participated in these stress tests. Salivary cortisol, peripheral blood lymphocyte telomerase, and serum pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine samples were collected before the stressor and again, repeatedly after the stressor.

The results of the study were dose-dependent, supporting a causal relationship. The highest dose (2.5 g) lowered cortisol by 19% and pro-inflammatory proteins (IL-6) by 33%, which was the only dose that suppressed stress-induced damage when compared to a placebo. Both n-3 doses prevented any changes in cytokine and telomerase levels in the 2 hours after the stress test. However, in the placebo group, telomerase levels were significantly reduced by an average of 24% and the anti-inflammatory protein (interleukin-10) decreased by an average of 20%, demonstrating the repair mechanism potential that omega-3 possesses and its potential to slow aging acceleration. The researchers also suggested that by lowering inflammation related to stress, n-3 may help individuals with depression who have increased inflammation (by about one-third). However, omega-3 may not reduce depressive symptoms in individuals without heightened levels of inflammation. 

The results showed that the n-3 supplements contributed to “stress resilience,” which the researchers defined as the “reduction of harm during stress and after acute stress sustained anti-inflammatory activity and protection of cell components that shrink as a consequence of aging.” For patients who experience high levels of stress, the recommendation of a high-quality fish oil supplement is critical, particularly one that uses technologies to help enhance biological availability and absorption. Supplementing with high concentrations of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in a 1:1 ratio may more quickly and fully enrich tissues with these essential fatty acids compared with lower concentrated formulas due to the competitive nature of other fatty acids. In addition to their beneficial roles in supporting a healthy inflammatory and stress response, omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in supporting heart health, normal lipid metabolism, immune health, brain and nervous system function, joint mobility, healthy skin, and hair.

By Caitlin Higgins, MS, LDN, CNS