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Omega-3 linked to younger biological age

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco looked at the length of telomeres, DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells replicate and age.

The ageing and lifespan of normal, healthy cells are linked to the so-called telomerase shortening mechanism, which limits cells to a fixed number of divisions. During cell replication, the telomeres function by ensuring the cell’s chromosomes do not fuse with each other or rearrange, which can lead to cancer. Elizabeth Blackburn, a telomere pioneer at the University of California San Francisco, likened telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the lace would unravel.

With each replication the telomeres shorten, and when the telomeres are totally consumed, the cells are destroyed (apoptosis). Previous studies have also reported that telomeres are highly susceptible to oxidative stress. Some experts have noted that telomere length may be a marker of biological ageing.

“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,” wrote the researchers, led by Ramin Farzaneh-Far.

“These findings raise the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cellular aging in patients with coronary heart disease,” they added.

The research adds to a large body of science supporting the potential health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in relation to heart health.

Study details

Several studies have shown increased survival rates among individuals with high dietary intake of marine omega-3 fatty acids and established cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms underlying this protective effect are not well understood, according to background information in the article.

The UCSF researchers looked at telomere length in blood cells of 608 outpatients with stable coronary artery disease. The length of telomeres was measured in leukocytes at the start of the study and again after 5 years.

Comparing levels of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) with subsequent change in telomere length, the researchers found that individuals with the lowest average levels of DHA and EPA experienced the most rapid rate of telomere shortening, while people with the highest average blood levels experienced the slowest rate of telomere shortening.

“Each 1-standard deviation increase in DHA plus EPA levels was associated with a 32 per cent reduction in the odds of telomere shortening,” wrote the authors.

Commenting on the potential mechanism, Dr Farzaneh-Far and his co-workers noted that this may be linked to oxidative stress, known to drive telomere shortening. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce levels of F2-isoprostanes, a marker of systemic oxidative stress, as well as increasing levels of the antioxidant enzymes catalase and superoxide dismutase, thereby reducing oxidative stress.

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