Can Fish Slow the Aging Process?

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It is now well established that the long chain omega-??3 fatty acids found in largest amounts in fish and shellfish can reduce the risk of dying from cardio-vascular disease. Now a new study suggests DHA and EPA may do so in part by slowing down the rate at which telomeres shorten over time. Telomeres are at the ends of DNA molecules and help keep them from unraveling. Telomere shortening is a marker of cellular aging. Telomeres are long in newborns and tend to shorten over the lifetime. As they shorten the cells genetic material can start to malfunction resulting in some of the cellular malfunctions seen in older people. Calorie restriction is the most potent dietary weapon against telomere shortening and appears to slow the aging process. However, other factors appear to impact telomere shortening over time. Both smoking and obesity are associated with significantly shorter telomeres in middle-?aged and older women of the same chronological age compared to those who remain lean and don't smoke.

A study published in the January 19th Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the impact of different levels of DHA and EPA in the blood on the change in telomere length of 608 people with stable coronary heart disease. Research measured the telomere length of their white blood cells and also measured the amount of long?chain omega-?3 fatty acids in their blood. After an average follow up of about 5 years the researchers noted that the telomeres of those with the lowest levels of these omega?3 fatty acids at the beginning of the study experienced significantly more telomere shortening over the next 5 years. For each standard deviation increase in blood DHA + EPA level the researchers noted was associated with a 32% reduction in the odds of telomere shortening. The authors noted that their findings suggests that boosting blood levels of marine omega-?3 fatty acids may protect against cellular aging in patients with stable coronary artery disease.
Bottom Line: If other researchers can confirm the telomere sparing impact of higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids over time then getting an adequate amount of these essential fatty acids may help slow the aging process in addition to their established role in reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease.
By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN
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