High blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids may slow cellular ageing in people with coronary heart disease, suggests a new study.
The researchers looked at telomere length in blood cells of 608 patients with stable coronary artery disease (1). The length of telomeres was measured in leukocytes at the start of the study and again after 5 years. 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. With each replication the telomeres shorten, and when the telomeres are totally consumed, the cells are destroyed (apoptosis).
Comparing levels of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) 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.
Commenting on the potential mechanism, the researchers said that omega-3 fatty acids may slow cellular ageing by reducing oxidative stress, known to drive telomere shortening. They added that a randomized controlled trial would be necessary to definitively confirm the link between omega-3 fatty acids and cellular ageing.
Recently, researchers from the US reported that telomere length was longer in regular multivitamin users, 586 women aged between 35 and 74 (2). The subjects did not have coronary heart disease.