Omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cellular aging, according to a 5-year tracking study published Jan 19 in JAMA.(1)
The study of patients with cardiovascular disease found that higher omega-3 fatty acid blood levels were associated with less shortening of the telomeres – ‘caps’ on the ends of chromosomes that protect them from deterioration and are emerging as a marker of biological age.
Several studies have also shown increased survival rates among individuals with established cardiovascular disease who consume generous amounts of marine omega-3 fatty acids (fish & krill oil).
It is known that telomeres are involved in the replication and stability of the chromosome, and that genetic factors and environmental stressors can shorten them. But the mechanisms underlying the omega-3 oils’ protective effect are not well understood, according to background information in the article.
Ramin Farzaneh-Far, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues conducted a study to determine whether omega-3 fatty acid blood levels were associated with changes in leukocyte (a type of blood cell) telomere length in a study of 608 outpatients with stable coronary artery disease. The patients were recruited between September 2000 and December 2002 for the Heart and Soul Study, and followed up to January 2009 (median [midpoint], 6.0 years).
The researchers measured leukocyte telomere length at the beginning of the study and again after 5 years of follow-up. Multivariable models were used to examine the association of baseline levels of omega-3 fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] and eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA]) with subsequent change in telomere length.
The researchers found that individuals in the lowest quartile of DHA+EPA experienced the most rapid rate of telomere shortening, whereas those in the highest quartile experienced the slowest rate of telomere shortening.
“Levels of DHA+EPA were associated with less telomere shortening before and after sequential adjustment for established risk factors and potential confounders,” the researchers write. “Each 1-standard deviation increase in DHA+EPA levels was associated with a 32 percent reduction in the odds of telomere shortening.
“In summary, among patients with stable coronary artery disease, there was an inverse relationship between baseline blood levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids and the rate of telomere shortening over 5 years. These findings raise the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cellular aging in patients with coronary heart disease.”
1. Article cited: “Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease,” Rarzaney-Far R, et al., JAMA, Jan 20, 2010.
Source: American Medical Association news release, Jan 19, 2009