For the new study, the researchers followed about 600 patients in the San Francisco Bay Area with coronary artery disease. Blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and telomere length were measured at the beginning of the study and again about five years later.
"That allowed us to measure the change in telomere length over five years and see if that bore any association with levels of omega-3 fatty acids at the beginning of the study," Farzaneh-Far said.
And, indeed, there was a relationship.
"We found that as blood levels of omega-3 went up, the rate at which telomeres shortened decreased," Farzaneh-Far said. "To the extent that that is a marker of biological aging, the rate of biological aging went down."
The findings don't change current recommendations regarding omega-3 fatty acids or what people should be doing.
"The American Heart Association recommends that those with coronary heart disease get about a gram a day of omega-3 fatty acids," said Farzaneh-Far. "Our study certainly doesn't suggest any change in that."
Dr. Melissa Tracy, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the new study gives "some additional support to the use of omega-3 fatty acids." But, she noted, it's unclear how far these findings could be extrapolated to other groups of people, such as those who don't have coronary artery disease.
"There are other extraneous circumstances which can impact telomere length," she said.
And, Tracy added, "we should try to do as much with our own bodies that we can. I am an advocate of proper diet, exercise, for optimizing your lifestyle, meaning reducing stress and getting enough sleep."
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