People with higher levels of omega-3s and men who drank the most green tea had longer telomeres—a sign of younger, healthier cells—new studies reveal.
Telomeres—the protective caps at the ends of chromosome DNA strands that contain our genetic code—are like the plastic tip of a shoelace that keeps it from unraveling. When a cell divides, the new cell must take with it a complete copy of the DNA strand to function properly. Long, healthy telomeres on the ends of each chromosome allow the new cell to get a complete DNA copy. Age, stress and poor nutrition can erode telomeres, eventually damaging chromosomes and any new cells. Doctors are beginning to gauge biological age by telomere length.
Doctors in a telomere study measured blood levels of omega-3s and the length of white blood cell telomeres in 608 outpatients with stable coronary artery disease, and they followed up for five years. Those who started the study with the lowest levels of DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids) had the most rapid telomere shortening, and those with the highest DHA and EPA levels had the slowest telomere shortening. Researchers found a direct link: the higher the level of DHA and EPA, the less likely telomeres were to shorten. Doctors concluded that omega-3s may protect against cellular aging in those with coronary artery disease.
In another telomere study, researchers measured the diets and telomere length of Chinese men and women, aged at least 65. After adjusting for environmental and demographic factors, women who consumed more fats and oils had shorter telomeres compared to women who ate fewer fats and oils. Men who drank the most green tea, about 25 ounces per day, had much longer telomeres compared to men who drank the least. Doctors said the average difference in telomere length in the men equaled about five years of life.