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Omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cell aging

January 19, 2010 |  1:00 pm

FishOilResearchers from UC San Francisco reported today that people with heart disease who had high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a lower rate of shortening of telomere length--a marker for aging--compared with similar heart patients who had the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

A telomere is a structure at the end of a chromosome that dictates the replication and stability of the chromosome. Shortening of the telomere means the cell is aging. Researchers have been examining various substances, such as vitamins, to see if they have an impact on slowing the telomere shortening rate. Meanwhile, other studies have demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to heart health. The American Heart Assn. recommends increased intake of oily fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, or the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements for the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

Researchers don't know how omega-3 fatty acids may affect telomeres. But, they wrote: "Although the mechanisms involved remain incompletely understood, there is increasing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids exert direct effects on aging and age-related diseases."

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Beatrice de Gea  /  Los Angeles Times