Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces telomere shortening in the cognitively impaired
Tuesday, October 22, 2013. A pilot study described online on October 3, 2013 in the journal Nutrition found a reduction in the shortening of telomere length among men and women with mild cognitive impairment who were given the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Telomeres, which shorten with aging, consist of genetic material that caps and protects the ends of the cells' chromosomes. An increase in telomere shortening has been associated with several aging-associated conditions, including Alzheimer's disease and cognitive impairment.
Australian researchers randomized 33 cognitively impaired participants over the age of 65 to receive 1.67 grams EPA plus 160 milligrams DHA, 400 milligrams EPA and 1.55 grams DHA, or 2.2 grams daily of the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid for six months. Blood samples were analyzed for telomere length before and after the treatment period.
While all three groups underwent telomere shortening during the six month period, participants who received linoleic acid had the greatest amount of shortening. The amount of shortening measured in subjects who received the high DHA regimen was described as a "very small effect" and that of the high EPA group was categorized as "trivial."
"This study provides interesting pilot data that indicates telomere shortening may be modified by nutritional means over a six month period," Nathan O'Callaghan and his coauthors write. "Specifically, increasing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake via supplementation may attenuate telomere shortening that occurs with age. These data build on current epidemiological evidence and recent reports linking increased marine omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with decreased telomere attrition. Further investigation is needed to understand the effects observed here, particularly deciphering whether telomere length is modified through an increase in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids or (and/or) a decrease in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids."
The November 2013 issue of Experimental Gerontology published the results of a study of Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula which found an increase in average telomere length among its residents in comparison with those residing in other regions of the country. The Peninsula is home to a population that has a greater life expectancy than the rest of Costa Rica—a country whose older citizens already have a higher life expectancy in relation to other countries.
The current investigation included 612 participants in the Costa Rican Study on Longevity and Healthy Aging, which enrolled men and women who were aged 60 and older in 2005. Blood samples collected between 2005-2006 and/or 2006-2008 were used to determine the average length of white blood cell telomeres, which are sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that shorten with aging of the cell.
Average telomere length among Nicoyans was significantly longer than that of residents of other areas of Costa Rica. The disparity could not be explained by demographics, social factors, diet, or disease biomarkers. The difference lessened after the age of 90 years and was not substantially different at the age of 95 or older.
Research has found that Nicoyans have greater psychological attachment to family in comparison with residents of San Jose, the capitol city, which may improve reactions to stress that negatively impact telomere length. The authors also suggest that genetic factors could be involved in the difference observed in the current study.
"Our findings are the first to examine whether this region is associated with a putative biological marker of aging, and our results suggest that future consideration of this may be useful for understanding the true causes of why individuals live longer in Nicoya, which could in turn produce basic fundamental knowledge about successful aging more generally," they conclude.
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