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January 22, 2010

Higher omega-3 fatty acid levels correlated with reduced telomere shortening rate

Higher omega-3 fatty acid levels correlated with reduced telomere shortening rate

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco reveal in the January 20, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that heart disease patients who have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids experience a lower rate of reduction in telomere length over time. Telomeres, which are protective DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, shorten with the age of the cell, and their length is a marker of biological aging.

In their introduction to the article, Ramin Farzaneh-Far, MD and colleagues note that "Multiple epidemiologic studies, including several large randomized controlled trials, have demonstrated higher survival rates among individuals with high dietary intake of marine omega-3 fatty acids and established cardiovascular disease. On this basis, the American Heart Association recommends increased oily fish intake and the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements for the primary and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. The mechanisms underlying this protective effect are poorly understood but are thought to include anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet, antihypertensive, antiarrhythmic, and triglyceride-lowering effects."

The current investigation enrolled 608 men and women recruited from the Heart and Soul Study, which assessed the effect of psychosocial factors on cardiovascular events in patients with stable coronary artery disease. Blood samples obtained upon enrollment between September, 2000 and December, 2002 were analyzed for levels of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in addition to other factors. White blood cell telomere length was measured at the beginning of the study and after 5 years of follow up.

Patients whose levels of EPA and DHA were among the top 25 percent of participants had the slowest rate of telomere shortening over the 5 year period, while those whose levels were lowest had rates that were the fastest. The authors noted that "Each 1-standard deviation increase in DHA + EPA levels was associated with a 32 percent reduction in the odds of telomere shortening."

In their discussion of the finding, Dr Farzaneh-Far and colleagues remark that several studies had observed cross-sectional associations between longer telomeres and nutritional supplements, including folic acid, multivitamins and vitamins C, D and E, however, these studies lacked longitudinal data on telomere shortening rates. Because increased oxidative stress has been identified as a factor in telomere shortening and aging, the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce oxidative stress as previously determined by lower levels of F2-isoprostanes and higher levels of the body's antioxidant enzymes in response to supplementation could explain the benefit observed in the current research. Additionally, the authors speculate that omega-3 fatty acids could enhance the activity of telomerase (the enzyme that helps maintain telomere length) in healthy tissue, while suppressing it in cancer cells.

"In this longitudinal study, we observed that baseline levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids were associated with decelerated telomere attrition over 5 years," the authors conclude. "These findings raise the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cellular aging in patients with coronary heart disease."

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Health Concern Life Extension Highlight

Coronary artery disease

Symptoms associated with atherosclerosis depend on the stage of the disease. In the early stages, which may last for decades, it rarely has any symptoms. In the later stages, the symptoms are caused by the obstruction of blood flow.

In the coronary arteries, the most common symptoms of atherosclerosis in men are chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath. In the arteries of the legs (peripheral arterial disease), the most common symptoms are leg pain (claudication). Unfortunately, atherosclerosis that occurs in the brain often has no symptoms; the first indication of serious vascular disease in the brain is often a stroke. So-called mini strokes, which have temporary symptoms similar to those of full-blown strokes, are sometimes an important warning sign of an impending stroke. If a plaque deposit in an artery ruptures, the symptoms are likely to be acute, often in the form of a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism. Each of these is a critical condition that requires immediate medical supervision.

By the time surgery or angioplasty is recommended for atherosclerosis, preventive medicine has already failed. Because atherosclerosis is such a slow process, there is ample time for intervention before symptoms develop. Dozens of clinical studies have shown that reduction of individual risk factors can help slow or even reverse the damage caused by atherosclerosis, and reversing or slowing endothelial dysfunction should be a cornerstone of therapy.

Any program aimed at reducing the risk of heart attack or slowing the progression of atherosclerosis begins with comprehensive blood testing. This step is vital to designing a program that targets an individual’s risk factors. For example, a person with high cholesterol might benefit more from a healthy nutritional program than someone with elevated risk of thrombosis. Similarly, people with high homocysteine levels should follow a program aimed at reducing homocysteine. That said, it is also important that all possible risk areas be addressed and adequate antioxidants consumed to protect against oxidant stress inside the arteries.

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