Poor omega-3 status may be as strong an indicator of early death as smoking, says recent study

A recently published paper found that low Omega-3 Index may be just as powerful a predictor of early death as standard risk factors that include total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, hypertension treatment, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, and prevalent diabetes.

A recently published paper1 found that low Omega-3 Index may be just as powerful a predictor of early death as standard risk factors that include total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, hypertension treatment, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, and prevalent diabetes. The finding is rooted in data drawn and analyzed from the Framingham study. The Framingham Heart Study is one of the world’s longest running studies that provided unique insights into cardiovascular disease risk factors, and led to the development of the Framingham Risk Score, based on eight baseline standard risk factors: age, sex, smoking, hypertension treatment, diabetes status, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol (TC), and HDL cholesterol.

Previous research2 that included 2500 participants in the Framingham Offspring Cohort found that baseline red blood cell EPA and DHA content was significantly and inversely associated with risk of death from all causes. In that study, subjects with the highest Omega-3 Index were 33% less likely to succumb to death during the years of follow-up (median 7.3 years), compared to those with the lowest Omega-3 Index.

In the current study, 2240 participants from the Framingham Offspring Cohort without prevalent cardiovascular disease that had red blood cell fatty acid measurements and relevant baseline clinical covariates were evaluated during 11 years of follow-up. After evaluating the association of the standard risk factors and 28 fatty acid metrics with all-cause mortality, and adjusting for age and sex, results showed that four of the 28 fatty acid metrics, including Omega-3 Index, were at least as good as predicting all-cause mortality as the standard risk factors. Additionally, a model with the four fatty acid metrics plus smoking and diabetes was a significantly higher predictor of mortality than the fatty acid metrics or smoking and diabetes on their own.

"It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the mean Omega-3 Index is greater than 8%, the expected life span is around five years longer than it is in the United States, where the mean Omega-3 Index is about 5%. Hence, in practice, dietary choices that change the Omega-3 Index may prolong life," explained Michael McBurney, PhD, FCNS-SCN, lead researcher in this study, in a press release. "In the final combined model, smoking and the Omega-3 Index seem to be the most easily modified risk factors. Being a current smoker (at age 65) is predicted to subtract more than four years of life (compared with not smoking), a life shortening equivalent to having a low vs. a high Omega-3 Index."

"The information carried in the concentrations of four red blood cell fatty acids was as useful as that carried in lipid levels, blood pressure, smoking, and diabetic status with regard to predicting total mortality," added Bill Harris, PhD, president of the Fatty Acid Research Institute, and an author on this study. "This speaks to the power of the Omega-3 Index as a risk factor and should be considered just as important as the other established risk factors, and maybe even more so."

Reference

  1. McBurney MI et al. “Using an erythrocyte fatty acid fingerprint to predict risk of all-cause mortality: the Framingham Offspring Cohort.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Published online ahead of print on June 16, 2021
  2. Harris WS et al. “Erythrocyte long-chain omega-3 fatty acid levels are inversely associated with mortality and with incident cardiovascular disease: The Framingham Heart Study.” Journal of Clinical Lipidology, vol. 12, no. 3 (2018): 718-727