Omega-3s May Slow Aging in Heart Patients
Heart Disease Patients With High Omega-3 Fatty Acids Age More Slowly on Cellular Level
Jan. 19, 2010 -- Heart disease patients with the highest blood levels of
omega-3 fatty acids appear to age more slowly than those with the lowest blood
levels, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that heart disease patients with a high intake
of omega-3 fatty acids -- found in fish and in dietary supplements -- have
higher survival rates.
The new study may help explain why. ''We've shown an entirely new effect of
omega-3 fatty acids, which may be to slow down the biological aging process in
patients with coronary heart disease," says lead author Ramin Farzaneh-Far, MD,
an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California San
Farzaneh-Far and his colleagues looked at a marker of biological age -- the
rate of shortening of telomeres, structures at the end of a chromosome involved
in its replication and stability. As the telomeres shorten over time, the
eventual result is cell death, scientists believe.
In previous research, Farzaneh-Far says, his team looked at the same group
of heart disease patients and found that telomere length was ''a powerful
predictor of death and bad outcomes [from heart disease]. In that [study], we
found the shorter your telomeres, the greater your risk of death."
In the new study, the higher the blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the
patients evaluated, the slower the rate of telomere shortening.
"We looked at the biological effects of higher blood levels," Farzaneh-Far
tells WebMD, "not supplement intake."
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical
Omega-3s and Aging Study Details
For the study, the researchers evaluated 608 patients with stable heart
disease, recruited from the Heart and Soul Study from September 2000 and
December 2002, following them up for a median of six years (half were followed
more, half less).
Participants gave blood samples at the beginning of the study, which were
evaluated for omega-3 fatty acid levels. The researchers also isolated DNA from
the blood and evaluated the length of the telomere of the leukocyte, a type of
Over the follow-up period, "patients with the lowest blood levels of omega-3
fatty acids exhibited a rate of telomere shortening 2.6 times faster than
patients with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids," Farzaneh-Far tells
How does that relate to aging? "We don’t have enough data to be able to
convert the changes of telomere shortening into years of aging," he says. "This
may be one of the first studies to look at the change in telomere length over
There was no association found between omega-3 fatty acid levels and
telomere length at the study start. The researchers aren't sure why, but state
that omega-3 fatty acid levels is one of many influences on the length of the
telomeres, with other factors including inflammation in the body, obesity,
oxidative stress, and lack of physical activity.
Would high omega-3 blood levels help those without heart disease?
Farzaneh-Far can't say. ''Whether this effect of omega-3 fatty acids on
telomere length is present in those without coronary heart disease, I just
can't say," Farzaneh-Far says, noting it was beyond the scope of the study.
However, he adds, ''it could be.'' Telomere shortening occurs in everyone, he