Have you ever wondered why some people who live horribly unhealthy lifestyles manage to outlive those who really work hard for good health? Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to even up the odds for living a long, healthy life? Well, there is.
The study I’m about to tell you about helps us understand why some people live long despite their lifestyle. And it also shows you how to increase your odds of living a long life.
It all has to do with genetics, DNA, and fish oils.
Now, fish oils are nothing new to you. Most Americans know that eating fish is good for you. And taking fish oil is now a mainstream health recommendation.
In fact, the researchers in this new study are from the Department of Cardiology at San Francisco General Hospital – about as conventional as you can get. These cardiologists knew that higher intakes of the omega-3 fats DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are found in fish oil, cause patients with heart disease to live longer. They also knew that previous studies had shown that some of the ways fish oil prevents heart disease is because it is anti-inflammatory, prevents platelets from sticking together to form dangerous clots, lowers blood pressure, prevents heart arrhythmias, and lowers blood fats.
But These Researchers Knew Something Else About Heart Disease
They knew that patients with heart disease have much shorter telomeres than people with healthy hearts. I’ve told you before about telomeres. They are the dispensable strands of DNA that are found at the ends of the chromosomes. Every time your cells divide, the ends of the chromosomes lose a little genetic material.
As long as this lost material comes from the telomeres, you don’t lose anything important, and your cells can retain all of their genetic content. So it’s good to have long telomeres. This allows your cells to divide for a much longer time before the telomeres finally wear out and you start losing important genetic information. Longer telomeres result in longer and more functional lives.
Because these researchers were aware of this information, they were curious to know if some of the marvelous properties of fish oils might have something to do with their effects on telomeres. So here’s what they did.
They looked at a group of 608 patients who had coronary artery disease. All of them were stable and doing well. The researchers measured the length of their telomeres, and the amounts of DHA and EPA that they had in their blood. Not surprisingly, they found that there was no association between how long the telomeres were and how high the DHA and EPA levels were. Some people with higher levels had shorter telomeres, and some with lower levels had longer telomeres. I’ll explain why this isn’t surprising in a little bit. But first, back to the study.
Then, an average of six years later, they re-measured everything a second time. When they sorted out all of the data, they noticed that all of the patients had developed shorter telomeres. This was expected. Remember that every time your cells divide, your telomeres become shorter. So everyone’s telomeres will shorten over a six-year period of time.
What’s Astonishing About This Study
But the astonishing thing was that the telomeres of the patients with the lower levels (lowest 25% of the participants) of DHA and EPA shortened 300% more than those with the highest levels (highest 25%). The researchers were able to determine that this finding was not influenced by any other factor, such as obesity, smoking, medications, or blood pressure. It was solely related to their EPA and DHA levels.
How do fish oils do this? I think it’s because they improve the way enzymes work. Enzymes are the special proteins in cells that regulate what gets done and what doesn’t. One of our most important enzymes for longevity and healthy aging is called telomerase. Telomerase acts to repair and lengthen the ends of the telomeres every time a cell division shortens them. As long as your telomerase enzymes work well, your body can maintain the function of your telomeres.
The problem is that as we get older, all of our enzymes, including telomerase, don’t work very well. And this leads to more rapid telomere shortening.
However, in 2008, Dean Ornish was able to show that a healthy diet, regular exercise, and supplementing with three grams of concentrated fish oil caused a significant increase in the activity of telomerase. That study dovetails perfectly with the San Francisco study, and also shows us how fish oil may work its magic on our telomeres.
Why Some People Live Longer Despite Poor Lifestyle Choices
To bring all of this together, there are three other points about this study that I need to flesh out. For one, why did the initial length of the telomeres in these patients not correlate at all with the levels of DHA and EPA? As I mentioned earlier, this lack of initial correlation wasn’t surprising for two reasons.
One, because of genetic differences, all of us are born with different telomere lengths to start with. Some people come into this world with telomeres that are much longer than others. This variation no doubt has something to do with all those exceptions to the rule out there. Some people with unhealthy lifestyles still manage to live longer than others with healthier lifestyles because they were born with much longer telomeres.
Second, studies have shown that there are other factors that can affect telomere length besides fish oil. These can include multivitamins, antioxidant intake, exercise, and smoking. But it was impossible for the researchers to account for the potential influence of these other factors before the study began. So it was natural that fish oil levels all by themselves could not account for the initial differences.
The second point I want to bring out concerns the results at the end of the study. The researchers found that the levels of EPA and DHA of both the patients with the minimally shortened and those with the maximally shortened telomeres were all in the “normal range.” This means that for many people, just having a diet that contains normal and customary levels of fish in the diet will not be enough to lengthen your life. As in the Ornish study, they will need to take supplements of fish oil in order to be in the upper bracket.
This means that fish oil is one of the best anti-aging strategies we have. The authors summed up the amazing anti-aging effect of fish oils this way: “The present findings identify deceleration of telomere attrition [prevention of telomere shortening] as a potentially novel pathway for the anti-aging effects of marine omega-3 fatty acids.”
Longer telomeres not only mean a longer life, more importantly they also translate out into a stronger and better functioning body as you get older. So learn from these studies. If you aren’t already, start today and please eat only whole fresh foods, maintain a regular aerobic exercise program, take a scoop of my Super Immune QuickStart, and take three grams of concentrated fish oil every day. But don’t take just any fish oil!
Make sure the brand you take contains a concentrate of 1,000 mg of DHA/EPA per capsule. And also make sure the manufacturer guarantees its purity. They must ensure that it is free of mercury and other contaminants. You can't find that kind of quality at the discount stores. You see, most fish oils have just 18% concentration of EPA and a 12% concentration of DHA. That’s just not enough to get the results you want.
Farzaneh-Far, Ramin, MD, Jue Lin, PhD, Elissa S. Epel, PhD, William S. Harris, PhD, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, and Mary A. Whooley, MD. “Association of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels With Telomeric Aging in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease,” JAMA, 2010 January 20; 303(3): 250.
Ornish, D., J. Lin, J. Daubenmier, et al. “Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study.” Lancet Oncol, 2008;9(11):1048-1057, [PubMed: 18799354].