The Epigenetic Influence of Omega-3s*
Omega-3 fatty acids impact health on a very deep cellular level. These essential fat molecules are incorporated into the phospholipid bilayer of the cell membrane where they support gene and protein expression, as well as membrane protein activity. When adequate omega-3 incorporates into the cell membrane, there is a better, more fluid exchange of nutrients and wastes entering and leaving the cell. That supports a healthier cell.
Inside the cell, they act as a reservoir for bioactive molecules and support cell-to-cell communication. Research is now demonstrating that this deep cellular influence by omega-3s also has epigenetic implications.
The field of epigenetic research has burgeoned over the past decade. According to a 2016 review article published in the journal Clinical Lipidology, “Epigenetics investigates heritable chemical modifications to the genome which are independent of the DNA sequence. These chemical changes, including DNA methylation, histone modifications, chromatin remodeling and non-coding RNAs, are vital for normal cellular development, cellular processes and cell-specific gene expression profiles.” This same review goes on to say that one of the key mechanisms by which omega-3s exert such powerful influence is by supporting DNA methylation, a marker of epigenetic influence.*
Interestingly, a 2017 study featured in the journal Clinical Epigenetics involving 36 overweight and obese individuals demonstrated that DNA methylation profiles changed following six weeks of omega-3 supplementation at a dose of 3 grams daily.* This is consistent with a 2014 study featured in the Journal of Nutrition where the researchers concluded that there is “promising evidence of an association between several biologically relevant epigenetic markers and long-term intake of marine-derived n-3 PUFAs.” The researchers single out DNA methylation in particular.*
A 2017 double-blind, placebo-controlled study, known as the OmegAD study, that was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that omega-3 supplementation decreased DNA methylation but also supported genetic expression as measured by messenger RNA concentrations.*
The study of epigenetics shows us that diet and lifestyle can have an impact on genetic expression through a variety of means including DNA methylation. A growing body of research is also now showing that isolated nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can also epigenetically support health by altering DNA methylation. Ensuring that patients consume enough omega-3 fatty acids via diet and/or supplementation becomes even more compelling given this new area of research interest.
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