Healthy living

Can fish oils slow down ageing?

They protect cells from ageing

A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help protect cells from ageing, new research has found.

Past studies have associated dietary omega-3 fatty acids with better survival rates in heart disease patients, but little was known about the underlying mechanism behind the protective effect.

But scientists from the University of California, San Francisco have found a link between omega-3 fatty acid levels in the blood and a marker of biological ageing found on chromosomes, called telomeres.

Telomeres are bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes, which helps keep the chromosome stable. Shorter telomeres are are a marker of biological ageing.

In the study, the scientists looked at telomere length in white blood cells taken from 608 patients with heart disease and compared it with blood levels of omega-3. Telomere length was measured at the start of the study and after five years.

The researchers found that patients with the lowest levels of omega -3 fatty acids in their blood had the fastest rate of telomere shortening, whilst those with the highest levels has the slowest rate.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors concluded:"In summary, among patients with stable coronary artery disease, there was an inverse relationship between baseline blood levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids and the rate of telomere shortening over 5 years.

"These findings raise the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cellular ageing in patients with coronary heart disease."

Omega -3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids which the body cannot make by itself, and so need to be obtained from your diet. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and fresh tuna (not tinned) are all rich in omega-3.

Currently, the government recommends we eat two portions of fish a week, one which is oily.

This article was published on Wed 20 January 2010

Image © Tomo Jesenicnik -

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