Life can be stressful and not all difficult situations can be avoided but you can provide your body with protection through nutrition. Researchers at Ohio State University found high doses of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids helped study participants resist the damaging effects of stress.
Scientists concluded omega-3s may also help slow the effects of aging by boosting protection at the cellular level during and after a stressful event. Study participants taking omega-3 supplements produced less of the stress hormone cortisol and registered lower levels of a pro-inflammatory protein as a result of a stressful compared to the placebo group.
Researchers likened the response to what they term stress resilience, which they said included a reduction in harm during and after a stressful event, as well as sustained anti-inflammatory activity. They also observed the protection of cell components that shrink as a result of aging.
These results were seen in middle-aged people who were overweight but otherwise healthy and lived a sedentary lifestyle. The combination of those factors is believed to put people at a higher risk for accelerated aging.
"The findings suggest that omega-3 supplementation is one relatively simple change people could make that could have a positive effect at breaking the chain between stress and negative health effects," said Annelise Madison, lead author of the paper and a graduate student in clinical psychology at Ohio State.
This study built on previous work Madison and her colleagues conducted regarding omega-3s and telomeres, which are the protective caps at the end of chromosomes. They tend to shorten over time in the cells associated with age-related conditions like heart disease.
Study participants took omega-3 in the dose of 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams daily for four months while the placebo group was given a mix of oils designed to replicate the typical American diet. There were 138 participants in the study and their ages ranged from 40-85. They each took a 20-minute test that combined a speech as well as a math subtraction task proven to produce an inflammatory stress response.
Blood tests showed both doses of omega-3s were effective at preventing changes in telomerase levels, an enzyme that rebuilds telomeres, but only the highest dose of omega-3s was able to suppress the damage from stress by lowering cortisol and the pro-inflammatory protein.
"You could consider an increase in cortisol and inflammation potential factors that would erode telomere length," Madison said. "The assumption based on past work is that telomerase can help rebuild telomere length, and you want to have enough telomerase present to compensate for any stress-related damage.”