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Anti-aging supplements – Is Omega-3 an Ultimate Holy Grail?

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When it comes to anti-aging supplements, we’re not just talking about what to take to help gray hair, wrinkly skin, and freckles. We are talking about quality supplements that can help us age gracefully — protect our brain, strengthen our bones, and protect cell damage. In this article, we outline some of the diseases we potentially face as we age. In addition, we explore the current research regarding Omega-3 as an anti-aging supplement. Could Omega-3‘s be the ultimate Holy Grail when it comes to anti-aging and disease prevention?

The wrinkled skin and grey hair may be inevitable when it comes to getting older, but it is entirely possible to age without suffering from many of the debilitating and costly conditions associated with reaching middle age. There are many benefits to living with today’s tremendous advances in science and medicine. One of the main advantages is increased life expectancy where many more people are able to live to a ripe old age. However, as one approaches middle age our risk of developing various diseases increases simply because we are another year older.

Anti-aging Supplements and Heart Health

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD’s) are a group of diseases involving our most precious organs (our heart and our brain) and the blood vessels supplying them. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), CVD’s can be blamed for more than 30% of global deaths every year (1). Most of these deaths can be blamed on heart disease as well as strokes.

While many of the risk factors for developing CVD’s like smoking and an unhealthy diet can be avoided, the main risk factor for CVD’s is aging which is obviously unavoidable (2). CVD’s are more common in men than it is in women, however, in both sexes the aging process increases the risk of developing the disease.

As we get older our bodies start to show a bit of ‘wear and tear’, our arteries become thinner with age and may become brittle due to a build-up of plaque (3). The walls of our heart may thicken and may even increase in size. Not a single anti-aging supplement in the world can stop our hearts from getting older, so we should be mindful and more protective of our hearts. The small changes that our bodies go through as we age, adds up to an increased risk of something going wrong like a heart attack or stroke 

Our Heart’s and Omega-3’s

The link between omega-3’s and heart health was first noted when researchers observed that native populations who consumed large amounts of fish had lower rates of heart disease (4).

Since then there has been extensive research into the benefits of omega-3 consumption for not only the prevention of CVD’s but also the role that omega-3’s may play in prolonging life and delaying the progression of the disease (5).

  • Regular omega-3 consumption has been proven to lower blood pressure and reduce the formation of blood clots, both of which can be associated with a reduced incidence of strokes (6)
  • When it comes to your arteries and blood vessels throughout your body, omega-3’s help to keep them smooth and free from plaque (7)
  • Omega-3’s have been shown to lower our ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol as well as raise our ‘good’ HDL cholesterol (8)
  • Omega-3’s are proven to cause a major reduction in triglyceride levels in our bodies, sometimes by as much as 30% (9)

Cancer

Second on the list of age-related conditions is the dreaded ‘C-word’, cancer. While cancer can strike at any age, the majority of cancers are related to lifestyle and age-related factors (10). The same way as we don’t have a cure for cancer, we don’t have anti-aging supplements that can help with this disease, but we have resources and fact-checked medical advice that can help us.

Why aging makes us more susceptible to cancer is not clear but scientists have developed a few theories. One theory is that as we age our bodies become less and less able to recognize and destroy abnormal cells, and in a nutshell, our immune systems become less effective. Another theory is that cancer develops in older people simply because they have been alive longer and therefore have had a longer exposure to various carcinogens (substances capable of causing and promoting cancerous cells in the body) like sunlight, chemicals or unhealthy food (11). For sun protection you don’t need anti-aging supplements, you need sunscreen, but when it comes to nutrition, you may need some help.

Getting older is, unfortunately, the main risk factor for contracting many of the more commonly known cancers such as breast, lung, colon, and prostate (12). According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States (US), our risk of developing cancer increases significantly as we reach middle age (13). As many as 24% of new cancer diagnoses are made in the age bracket of 55-64 years of age. A further 25% are diagnosed in the next decade, 65-74 years.

Cancer and Omega-3’s

Omega-3’s may be the key to preventing specific types of age-related cancers like colon, breast and prostate cancer:

  • Various studies have shown that omega-3’s may reduce our risk of developing colon cancer(14, 15)
  • Women with higher intakes of specifically marine sourced Omega-3’s have been found to have a reduced risk of breast cancer, in comparison to those women with a lower intake (16)
  • Women undergoing treatment for breast cancer have been shown to have an increased rate of survival with omega 3 supplementation (16)

Anti-Aging Supplements for Mental Decline

Next up on the list of age-related diseases is the mental decline and neurodegenerative diseases and Omega-3.

When it comes to mental degeneration we’re not just talking about becoming forgetful in your old age and forgetting where your car keys are. In this case, neurodegenerative diseases refer to a group of incurable conditions that affect the neurons in the brain and ultimately how the brain functions. Unfortunately, when neurons become damaged or die they usually do not repair or replace themselves and over-time you are left with either ataxia (problems with movement) or dementia (problems with mental functioning).

Examples of these diseases include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • General dementia
  • Senile dementia

Once again the main risk factor for developing any one of the different types of dementia is our age (17). Amongst the full spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are the most common when it comes to age-related cognitive decline. 

Omega-3 as one of the Anti-Aging Supplements for your Brain

Excitingly, there are various studies that show that a higher intake of omega-3’s is linked to a decrease in age-related mental decline and neurodegeneration.

  • Higher levels of omega 3’s are linked to a lower chance of Alzheimer’s disease (19)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to protect the brain against age-related dementia (20)
  • Populations who eat more fish have been found to have more grey matter in their brain (the type of tissue responsible for memories and processing of information) (21)

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Last on the list of age-related diseases and conditions is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a fairly common eye condition found in people aged 50 years and older. It is also the leading cause of vision loss in these populations. In some people, the disease progresses very slowly without major vision loss, while others may experience rapid progression of the disease (22).

Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment available for the early stages of AMD, however, prevention and management of the condition can help with the progression of the disease. While anti-aging supplements are usually focused on skin, hair, and nails, Omega-3’s DHA can help to prevent AMD.

Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is one of the different types of omega-3’s. Interestingly our brain and the retina of our eyes actually contain DHA. For this reason, a shortage of omega-3’s can cause issues with our vision. It is therefore only logical that ongoing supplementation with omega-3’s can help to prevent AMD.

  • Studies have shown that patients who had a consistent intake of omega-3’s had a protective effect against AMD, in comparison to those with a low intake of the fish oil (23).

The Bottom Line

While it may sound like it’s all downhill from middle age, disease and ill health is not a foregone conclusion. It is never too late to start practicing preventative habits that can help to ensure that your health is maintained well into your old age. Even though Omega-3 is not exactly an anti-aging supplement, regular consumption of Omega-3’s may not only prevent certain diseases but also improve our quality of life as we age (24).

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential, as our bodies cannot produce these healthy fats. It is vital to our health to receive them from an external dietary source. The fats are readily available from our diet through various sources of ‘fatty fish’ such as mackerel, trout, salmon, sardines or herring. But, not everyone enjoys fish or eats enough fatty fish to get a sustainable and ongoing dose of omega-3’s in the correct ratios.

One of the easiest and most effective tools for prevention may be as easy as taking a pill every day. But not just any pill. It is critical to choose an omega supplement that not only provides enough of the right omega-3 fatty acids from the purest sources, but also with the correct ratio’s of DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

DHA and EPA are only available from fish and shellfish while other types of omega-3’s (alpha-linolenic acid) can be found in plant sources such as flaxseed.

 

 

References

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(2)Cazzola, R., Russo-Volpe, S., Miles, E. A., Rees, D., Banerjee, T., Roynette, C. E., … Cestaro, B. (2007). Age- and dose-dependent effects of an eicosapentaenoic acid-rich oil on cardiovascular risk factors in healthy male subjects. Atherosclerosis193(1), 159–167.

(3)Aging changes in the heart and blood vessels: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved 6 July 2017, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004006.htm

(4)Leaf, A. (2008). Historical overview of n-3 fatty acids and coronary heart disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition87(6), 1978S–80S.

(5)North, B. J., & Sinclair, D. A. (2012). The Intersection Between Aging and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation Research110(8), 1097–1108.

(6)Peter, S., Chopra, S., & Jacob, J. J. (2013a). A fish a day, keeps the cardiologist away! – A review of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the cardiovascular system. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism17(3), 422–429. https://doi.org/10.4103/2230-8210.111630

(7)Wang, Q., Liang, X., Wang, L., Lu, X., Huang, J., Cao, J., … Gu, D. (2012). Effect of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on endothelial function: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Atherosclerosis221(2), 536–543.

(8)Marchioli, R., Barzi, F., Bomba, E., Chieffo, C., Di Gregorio, D., Di Mascio, R., … GISSI-Prevenzione Investigators. (2002). Early protection against sudden death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids after myocardial infarction: time-course analysis of the results of the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell’Infarto Miocardico (GISSI)-Prevenzione. Circulation105(16), 1897–1903.

(9)Shidfar, F., Keshavarz, A., Hosseyni, S., Ameri, A., & Yarahmadi, S. (2008). Effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on serum lipids, apolipoproteins and malondialdehyde in type 2 diabetes patients. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal = La Revue De Sante De La Mediterranee Orientale = Al-Majallah Al-Sihhiyah Li-Sharq Al-Mutawassit14(2), 305–313.

(10)Why Does Cancer Risk Increase As We Get Older? (n.d.). Retrieved 6 July 2017, from http://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2016/06/why-does-cancer-risk-increase-as-we-get-older/

(11)Known and Probable Human Carcinogens. (n.d.). Retrieved 6 July 2017, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/general-info/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens.html

(12)Age. (n.d.). [cgvArticle]. Retrieved 6 July 2017, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/age

(13)Niccoli, T., & Partridge, L. (2012). Aging as a Risk Factor for Disease. Current Biology22(17), R741–R752. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.07.024

(14)Theodoratou, E., McNeill, G., Cetnarskyj, R., Farrington, S. M., Tenesa, A., Barnetson, R., … Campbell, H. (2007). Dietary fatty acids and colorectal cancer: a case-control study. American Journal of Epidemiology166(2), 181–195.

(15)Zhong, X., Fang, Y.-J., Pan, Z.-Z., Li, B., Wang, L., Zheng, M.-C., … Zhang, C.-X. (2013). Dietary fat, fatty acid intakes and colorectal cancer risk in Chinese adults: a case-control study. European Journal of Cancer Prevention: The Official Journal of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation (ECP)22(5), 438–447. https://doi.org/10.1097/CEJ.0b013e32835e88c4

(16)Fabian, C. J., Kimler, B. F., & Hursting, S. D. (2015a). Omega-3 fatty acids for breast cancer prevention and survivorship. Breast Cancer Research: BCR17, 62.

(17)Hung, C.-W., Chen, Y.-C., Hsieh, W.-L., Chiou, S.-H., & Kao, C.-L. (2010). Aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Ageing Research Reviews9 Suppl 1, S36-46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2010.08.006

(18)What? | JPND. (n.d.). Retrieved 6 July 2017, from http://www.neurodegenerationresearch.eu/about/what/

(19)Alzheimer’s & Dementia Risk Factors | Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.). Retrieved 6 July 2017, from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp

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(21)Raji, C. A., Erickson, K. I., Lopez, O. L., Kuller, L. H., Gach, H. M., Thompson, P. M., … Becker, J. T. (2014a). Regular fish consumption and age-related brain gray matter loss. American Journal of Preventive Medicine47(4), 444–451.

(22)Lim, L. S., Mitchell, P., Seddon, J. M., Holz, F. G., & Wong, T. Y. (2012). Age-related macular degeneration. Lancet (London, England)379(9827), 1728–1738. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60282-7

(23)Souied, E. H., Aslam, T., Garcia-Layana, A., Holz, F. G., Leys, A., Silva, R., & Delcourt, C. (2015). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Ophthalmic Research55(2), 62–69. https://doi.org/10.1159/000441359

(24)Lawrenson, J. G., & Evans, J. R. (2015). Omega 3 fatty acids for preventing or slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (4), CD010015. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD010015.pub3

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