In coronary heart disease (CHD) patients, higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in the blood are associated with survival.1,2 Since patients with higher circulating omega-3s seemed to live longer, scientists wondered whether these patients were actually aging more slowly.
They were able to indirectly measure rate of aging by measuring the telomere shortening rate in the patients' white blood cells. Telomeres are regions of DNA at the ends of linear chromosomes - since telomeres are shortened during each cell division as DNA is replicated, telomere shortening is an indicator of aging at the DNA level. Faster telomere shortening means faster aging.
Blood levels of EPA and DHA and white blood cell telomere length were measured in CHD patients at baseline and again after 5 years. The patients who had the lowest omega-3 levels had the fastest rates of telomere shortening, and those with the highest omega-3 levels had the slowest rates of telomere shortening.
Omega-3s were in fact able to slow aging at the DNA level.
Omega-3 fatty acids, have several health benefits, and more benefits continue to be uncovered. In addition to slowing the aging process, in the past year alone the omega-3 fatty acid DHA has been suggested to promote cognitive development, prevent atherosclerotic plaque development, curb inflammation, and protect against cancer.
Read more about the newly found health benefits of DHA, and why it may be both safer and more environmentally sound to use an algae-based DHA supplement instead of fish oil. I also still strongly recommend that certain seeds and nuts rich in the omega-3 ALA, such as flax, chia, hemp, or walnuts are important to be included in the diet as well for other documented health benefits.
1. Chattipakorn N et al. Cardiac mortality is associated with low levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the heart of cadavers with a history of coronary heart disease. Nutr Res. 2009 Oct;29(10):696-704.
2. Farzaneh-Far R et al. Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease. JAMA. 2010 Jan 20;303(3):250-7