A new study shows that fatty fish is beneficial to heart patients because the omega-3 oils help slow down the aging process.
Studies show that oily fish like salmon and tuna can help heart patients live longer, and now researchers know why.
"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, University of California, San Francisco.
Telomeres are the red areas, protective caps on the chromosomes that resemble the plastic ends on shoelaces. Telomeres protect valuable genetic material. Over time they can become damaged and shorten because of inflammation, smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.
Dr. Ramin Farzaneh-far and his colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco measured telomere length of 608 patients with stable coronary artery disease.
"Patients with the highest levels of omega-3 fish oils were found to display the slowest decrease in telomere length, 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," said Farzaneh-far.
Five years later, researchers checked again.
"By measuring telomere length at two different times we are able to see the speed at which the telomeres are shortening and that gives us some indication of how rapidly the biological aging process is taking place in these patients," said Farzaneh-far.
Researchers say this study backs up the American Heart Association recommendation that cardiac patients get at least one gram of omega- 3 fish oils daily in their diet.
It's not known if the same benefits would apply to people without coronary artery disease.