Although there are many areas of research related to the mechanisms for how omega-3 fatty acids initiate a cardio-protective effect, the underlying pathways are not clearly understood. This omega-3 fatty acids protective effect is thought to be related to anti-inflammatory, anti-platelet, anti-hypertension, anti-arrhythmic, and triglyceride-lowering pathways.
Telomeres, which form protective caps at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes, are tandem repeat DNA sequences (TTAGGG)n. The length of a telomere is an emerging marker for biological age independent of chronological age. More importantly, an association between telomere length and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality has been published recently.
The telomere length of replicating somatic cells is inversely correlated with age-related disorders such as cardiovascular disease. This means that longer telomeres (maintaining their original length) are better than shorter ones. Specifically the length of a person’s leukocyte telomere may be a marker for biological age that can independently predict morbidity and mortality among patients with cardiovascular disease. In this prospective cohort study, Farzaneh-Far et al. investigated whether marine omega-3 fatty acid levels are associated with leukocyte telomere length after 5 years.
The association between levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids and leukocyte telomere length was investigated. Patients (n = 608) from the Heart and Soul Study were evaluated; all subjects had been diagnosed with coronary heart disease. Baseline marine omega-3 levels (docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)) were measured from whole blood and four groups of patients were delineated. These four groups had baseline levels of 2.3, 3.3, 4.3 and 7.3% marine omega-3 fatty acids (expressed as a percentage of total fatty acid methyl esters).
There was no significant association between omega-3 fatty acid levels and baseline telomere length; however, there was a positive correlation between baseline levels and the change in telomere length after 5 years. In other words, baseline levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids were associated with less decrease in telomere length (preservation of telomere length). With this preservation of leukocyte telomere length, it appears that omega-3 fatty acids may slow cellular aging among patients with diagnosed coronary heart disease.
Intake of marine omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with survival during myocardial infarction; however, the mechanisms for this protective effect are not clearly understood. The authors recognize that one or more alternate mechanisms may be involved with cardio-protective properties of omega-3’s and that the association between omega-3 fatty acids with decreased telomere shortening may involve reduced oxidative stress and increased activity of the enzyme telomerase.
This observational study found that patients with stable coronary artery disease had less telomere shortening after 5 years when higher levels of marine omega-3 levels were present. The authors point out that these findings may not be generalized to other populations; however, these results do introduce a new association between marine omega-3 levels and a possible mechanism that should be studied in more detail.
Suggested Citation: Cope M, Baird J, Vannice GK, Winwood RJ. EPA and DHA Omega-3s and a new marker of aging in people with heart disease. Advances in EPA & DHA Research, Vol 03;(01), 2010.