STRESS AND LONG LIFE?
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids and Life Span: The Long and Short
by Dr. Perricone
As you will learn later in this chapter, stress plays a role in
shortening life span, and I will retell several excellent news
stories that Craig Weatherby and the team at Vital Choice
generously shared with me. The good news is that certain
nutrients, such as omega-3 essential fatty acids, can help
counteract this effect. I have long championed the benefits of
wild salmon and other cold-water fish for a variety of reasons,
including their ability to keep skin supple, youthful, and
radiant; increase brainpower and cardiovascular health; protect
joints; and improve and stabilize mood, to name just a few
benefits. I believe there is a solid link between diet and
disease, including some forms of cancer. I also believe-and
science bears this out-that stress is one of the single greatest
precipitators of accelerated aging.
If we are to be Forever Young, we need to find successful
strategies to conquer stress, both physical and mental. A loving,
nonjudgmental companion animal is a great antidote to stress, as
are forms of exercise such as yoga (see chapter 7), spending time
out in nature, or simply making the time to restore yourself.
Stress can shorten your life span-this is not a theory but an
actual measurable fact. A recent study at the University of
California has not only implicated stress in cell aging, it also
suggests that stress accelerates the rate at which cells age. We
have long known that stress precipitates premature aging, but the
exact mechanism of how this occurs has been unclear.
According to researchers, stress affects telomeres, strips of DNA
at the end of chromosomes, which appear to protect and stabilize
the chromosome ends. A chromosome is a type of cell that carries
heredi tary information. Telomeres are involved in regulating
cell division. Each time the cell divides, the telomere shortens,
until eventually there is nothing left, making cell division less
reliable and increasing the risk of age-related disorders. Like
the wrapped tips of shoelaces, without which the laces would
unravel, telomeres ensure that a cell's chromosomes do not fuse
with one another or rearrange themselves during cell division,
which can lead to cancer.
With each replication the telomeres shorten, and when the
telomeres are gone, the cells are programmed to commit a form of
cellular "suicide" called apoptosis, which was discussed in
chapter l. Telomeres are highly vulnerable to oxidative stress
from free radicals generated by:
* Eating a pro-inflammatory diet (i.e., high-glycemic
* Environmental stressors
* Weakened immune system
* Excess exposure to ultraviolet light
* Hormonal changes
* Normal metabolism
Since they protect telomeres by neutralizing free radicals, foods
rich in antioxidants, which help the body neutralize free
radicals, help maintain good health and a youthful appearance.
Omega-3s to the Rescue
Researchers have shown that omega-3s may also protect telomeres,
as one study with heart patients demonstrates.
Researchers based at the University of California conducted a
study designed to determine whether omega-3 blood levels were
associated with changes in telomere length among heart patients
with coronary artery disease.
A team led by Ramin Farzaneh-Far, M.D., recruited 608 heart
patients between September 2000 and December 2002 and
measured the length of their leukocyte telomeres at the
beginning of the study and again after five years of
After comparing the starting lengths of the cardiac
outpatients' telomeres with their length after five years,
the researchers found that people with the lowest omega-3
levels experienced the speediest rate of telomere
In contrast, those with the highest omega-3 levels showed
the slowest rate of telomere shortening.
RESULTS MAY HELP EXPLAIN OMEGA-3s'
PROVEN HEART BENEFITS
The findings offer one plausible biological explanation for why
eating cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies as
well as taking fish oil helps heart patients.
The authors speculated that omega-3s may counteract oxidative
stress, or increase the production of telomerase, an enzyme that
lengthens and repairs shortened telomeres.
If you find it surprising that they'd suggest an antioxidant role
for omega-3s, you've been listening to the wrong people.
Many observers make erroneous assumptions about the
susceptibility of dietary omega-3s to oxidation in the body.
While omega-3s oxidize rapidly when exposed to air, several
recent studies have shown that they act as antioxidants inside
our vascular system ... thereby reducing inflammation and, in
turn, the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease....
The researchers studied only the effects of fish oil on cellular
aging in heart patients, so it is not clear if the association
would hold true in healthy people.
But as Dr. Farzaneh-Far told Reuters, "There is no reason to
think that it wouldn't."
He expressed the essence of his team's finding this way:
"Telomere length is an emerging marker for determining biological
age.... We are excited to identify omega-3 fatty acids as a
potentially protective factor that may slow down telomere