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[Studies] Omega-Essential Fatty Acid Supplementation and Aging

Many of you have read about the health benefits of eating fish due to the levels of omega-3 fatty acids they contain.  Benefits for heart, eye sight, and brain function are just a few of the areas reported in the scientific literature.

Now, a study from Ohio State University, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, reports that a part of our chromosomes (a cellular component that contain our genes) called the telomere may be protected when omega-3 oils are consumed.

The telomere is located at the end of the chromosome and protects it from decaying or unraveling and malfunctioning.  The telomeres tend to decrease in length as we age thus rendering our chromosomes more susceptible to damage and not being able to reproduce our gene sequences efficiently or correctly.

Decreased telomere lengths are associated with the chronic diseases of aging and death rates.  Some researchers think that the decrease in telomere length is due to low levels of chronic systemic inflammation that circulates throughout our bodies and may be responsible for many chronic diseases as well as decreased telomere lengths.  This inflammation can be measured by various markers that indicate the level of inflammation in our bodies. The omega-3 supplementation reduced the levels of some of the better known markers.

It was fascinating to read that taking 1.25 to 2.50 grams a day of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docashexanoic acid, the two important omega-3’s found in fish and Krill oil), reduced systemic levels of inflammation in humans but also increased the telomere lengths as well. (Suggesting that the loss of telomere length may be reversible, indicating a possible anti-aging benefit).

A word to the wise is to be very careful when purchasing omega-3 supplements. In many products the total omega-3 content may be listed as 500-1000mg per soft gel or more, which would make one tend to think that by taking 2-3 soft gels a day, you would be getting the 1.25-2.5 grams a day found to be helpful in the study.

Well, this is not the case, because the therapeutic omega-3’s EPA and DHA are often only a small percentage of the total amount of omega-3’s listed on the label.  For example the supplement panel on the label of an omega-3 supplement may state that each soft gel has a total of 1000mg of omega-3 in it.  But if you read further is may state that EPA and DHA only represent 25% of that total or only 250mg. of EPA and DHA. 

At 250 mg total EPA and DHA in each soft gel, to get 2.5 grams you would have to take 10 of the soft gels not the 2or 3 you might think.

A good omega-3 product should have at least 40% EPA, DHA of the total omega-3 listed in each soft gel.  The higher the percentage the better and the purer the product.



Curt Hendrix M.S. C.C.N. C.N.S.


All too often many companies that sell dietary supplements quote published studies saying that their product was shown to demonstrate a certain health benefit in a study published in some scientific sounding journal.

To be an informed consumer (and not waste your money), it is important to understand when the quoted study is credible and actually increases the odds of the particular product helping you.

Studies that, all though interesting, cannot be relied upon, are:

1-     Studies that were done on animals and not humans. Unfortunately, many ingredients that demonstrate a therapeutic benefit in rats, mice or rabbits, don’t show benefits in humans

2-     In-vitro studies are studies done outside of a living organism, in a test tube or petri dish. These studies offer zero comfort that the product will work for you.

3-     Even studies that are in humans cannot always be relied upon. Sometimes the number of people tested is so small that the results may not be reproducible. Sometimes the study reports positive benefits, but the magnitude of the benefits is so small that the product is not worth buying.  (For example a product that reports weight loss, but the weight loss is one half pound per month, which would not be acceptable to many purchasers.) The study didn’t compare the product to a placebo (known as a sugar-pill, but really any pill that has no active ingredients in it) or other product proven to work.  Especially when it comes to measuring things that are subjective like pain, comfort, pleasure, etc. just believing that the pill will work causes some people to report positive results even though they took the placebo (which is known to do nothing).

So look for studies that:

1-     Are placebo controlled studies in humans that report P-Values of .05 or smaller (P-values represent the odds that the reported benefit of the product was a matter or chance or luck.)  .05 means that that there was a 5% chance of the results occurring due to chance and not the therapeutic efficacy of the product. The lower the P-Value the more likely it is that the product works!

2-     Look for studies that are published in peer-reviewed journals.  This means that before the study is published experts in the field review the article to make sure that the science was done and reported correctly.  You can go on the internet and check whether any given journal is peer-reviewed.


Curt Hendirx, M.S., C.C.N., C.N.S.