Can the Omega-3s in Fish Slow Down Aging?

Certain types of fish may help protect against cell damage. Here's how.

man eating salad with salmon

Updated on January 30, 2023.

The fragile tips on the ends of your DNA? They rely on protective caps to keep them alive and healthy. These caps shrink as you get older and provide less protection. But there's a dinner choice that could help keep them in tip-top shape: fish.

In a 2022 meta-analysis of five trials in Biomolecular Concepts, researchers found that the good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids found in fish appeared to help those fragile protective caps on your DNA—called telomeres—stay younger, longer.

How telomeres work

Telomeres guard DNA the way plastic shoelace tips stop your sneaker laces from fraying. But telomeres grow shorter as part of the natural aging process each time a cell divides. The length of the your telomeres today reflect both your age and overall health. Stress, body inflammation, lack of exercise, and obesity can shorten those tips even faster, essentially opening the window wider to different kinds of body-aging cell damage. This may include extra wrinkles, gray hair, brittle bones, and even medical conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Omega-3s and telomere length

Enter the fish entree. Scientists suspect that the omega-3s in fish dinners (or lunches, or supplements) activate the body's defenses against telomere-munching free radicals, unstable chemicals that attack cells. These healthy omega-3 fats may also boost activity of a telomere-pampering enzyme called telomerase. Researchers in a 2022 study in Nutrients support this idea, noting that omega-3 acids are a promising avenue to ward off premature aging. They also note, however, that the type of omega-3s, their source, and the amounts needed require more study.

So, how do you get enough omega-3s in your diet? Eating fish and other seafood is a good place to start. The highest amount of omega-3s are found in cold-water fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. Lower-fat fish, such as cod and tilapia, have fewer omega-3s. Other good sources include walnuts, flax seed, chia seeds, plant oils, and fortified foods such as certain eggs, yogurt, and milk.  

In addition to omega-3 consumption, telomere length and overall health benefits significantly from healthy lifestyle choices, including maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.

Article sources open article sources

NIH: National Human Genome Research Institute. Telomere. Updated January 26, 2023.
Ali S, Scapagnini G, Davinelli S. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the telomere length: A mini meta-analysis of clinical trials. Biomol Concepts. 2022;13(1):25-33.
Lin J, Epel E. Stress and telomere shortening: Insights from cellular mechanisms. Ageing Res Rev. 2022;73:101507. 
Shin YA. How does obesity and physical activity affect aging?: Focused on telomere as a biomarker of aging. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2019;28(2):92-104. 
NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Updated July 18, 2022.
Chirag M Vyas, Soshiro Ogata, Charles F Reynolds, et al. Telomere length and its relationships with lifestyle and behavioural factors: variations by sex and race/ethnicity. Age and Ageing. 2021;50(3):838–846.

More On

How can I kick my sugar addiction

video

How can I kick my sugar addiction
To kick a sugar addiction, you must be aware of the sugars in the foods you eat, and know all the different names for sugar. Watch research neuroscien...
Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Recipe

article

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Recipe
7 Fall Fruits and Veggies Your Body Needs—Plus Recipes

slideshow

7 Fall Fruits and Veggies Your Body Needs—Plus Recipes
Curb your cravings with these healthy meals selected by a nutritionist.
How does the body use carbohydrates?

video

How does the body use carbohydrates?
Sports medicine and nutrition specialist Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM, explains how the body uses carbohydrates.
Why you should eat dinner as a family

video

Why you should eat dinner as a family
Sitting down to a family dinner has many health benefits, says pediatrician Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann. Learn how a family dinner helps lower blood press...