Study: Fish oil helps heart patients live longer

January 19, 2010 3:14:40 PM PST
Researchers say diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can help people with heart disease live longer, but why these oils are so beneficial remains unclear. A new study looks at how higher fish oil levels in the blood may protect the caps on chromosomes, which help measure biological aging. Salmon, tuna and other oily fish are said to help patients with coronary artery disease live longer. But how, exactly, they help remains unclear.

"The main result from our study is that patients with high levels of Omega-3 fish oil in the blood appear to have a slowing of the biological aging process over five years, as measured by the change in telomere length," said Dr. Ramin Farzaneh-Far, of the University of California-San Francisco.

Telomeres are protective caps on chromosomes, and they resemble the plastic which holds the ends of shoelaces together. Telomeres protect valuable genetic material and are markers for biological aging. Over time, they can become damaged and shorten because of inflammation, smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.

Dr. Farzaneh-Far and co-authors first measured telomere length of 608 patients with stable coronary artery disease between September 2000 and December 2002.

The study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Patients with the highest levels of Omega-3 fish oils were found to display the slowest decrease in telomere length," Dr. Farzaneh-Far said. "Whereas those with the lowest levels of Omega-3 fish oils in the blood had the fastest rate of telomere shortening, suggesting that these patients were aging faster than those with the higher fish oil levels in their blood."

After five years, researchers measured telomere length again.

"By measuring telomere length at two different times, we are able to see the speed at which the telomeres are shortening," Dr. Farzaneh-Far said. "And that gives us some indication of how rapidly the biological aging process is taking place in these patients."

Researchers say the study results underscores the American Heart Association recommendations that coronary artery disease patients should get at least one gram of omega three fish oils daily, in their diet.