Study finds link between high EPA and DHA omega-3 blood levels and decreased risk of death

February 21, 2017
Credit: GOED

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology found that higher levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in red blood cells were associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality in postmenopausal women. The study specifically examined associations with the omega-3 index, a measure of EPA and DHA levels in red blood cells. Over a 15-year period, the research found that women ages 65 to 80 with omega-3 blood levels in the highest quartile were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause than those in the lowest quartile.

The study analyzed data from more than 6,500 women aged 65-80 who participated in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study, which began in 1996. The women's PUFA levels were measured in 1996 and then the health outcomes were tracked through August 2014, with the primary outcome being all-cause mortality. After a median of 14.9 years of follow-up, 28.5 percent of the women had passed away. The analysis was adjusted for a wide variety of lifestyle and other factors such as smoking, physical activity and history of cardiovascular disease. This was a prospective cohort study, or a study that follows a group of similar people (a cohort) over time to observe correlations between various factors and health outcomes.

"This is the largest -but far from the only - study to confirm that blood levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, in this case the omega-3 index, are independent predictors of risk for death," said Dr. William Harris, lead author of the study and founder of OmegaQuant Analytics (where the samples were analyzed). "These findings support the view that higher EPA and DHA omega-3 levels are associated with better overall health."

Although this study was observational and did not analyze the effect of a specific intervention, the authors estimated that intakes of approximately 1g of EPA and DHA per day were required to increase omega-3 status from the lowest quartile observed in this study (3.6 percent) to the highest quartile (7.1percent). This approximately equals two and a half to three salmon fillets per week according to the USDA Nutrient Database, or the amount that could be obtained from 1-3 softgels or one teaspoon of a liquid omega-3 supplement daily.

"This study adds to a larger body of evidence demonstrating the positive correlation between higher omega-3 index levels and general wellness," said Adam Ismail, Executive Director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). "The results gathered over a 15-year period support the notion that adequate omega-3 intake is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, just like exercise and following a well-balanced diet."

To put the results of this study in context, a recent paper by Murphy et al found that the omega-3 status of more than 80 percent of Americans was below the omega-3 index observed in the highest quartile in this study. Another paper by Stark et al found that very low omega-3 levels "were observed in North America, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa." Thirteen prior studies have also been conducted in this area, twelve of which have found statistically significant reductions in mortality risk associated with the highest levels of omega-3s. These studies can be found in the supplementary data of the Harris paper, with the addition of two studies by Miura et al published last month.

To increase omega-3 intake, it's important to consume specific fish species that contain high levels of EPA and DHA, like salmon, tuna and sardines. Depending on which other foods someone incorporates into his or her diet, a typical person might spend up to $40 per month on these fish to reach this level of omega-3 status. It's also possible to obtain this level of EPA and DHA for about $16 per month with supplement use.

The FDA considers dosages of EPA and DHA up to 3g per day Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), a higher level than the 1g per day estimated as a requirement to move from the lowest to highest quartile of omega-3 status in this study. However, consumers should always consult a healthcare provider if they have any concerns or questions before making significant changes to their diet or supplementation habits, and can ask to have their omega-3 tested.

Explore further: Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help lower blood pressure in young, healthy adults

More information: William S. Harris et al, Red blood cell polyunsaturated fatty acids and mortality in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study, Journal of Clinical Lipidology (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jacl.2016.12.013

Related Stories

Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help lower blood pressure in young, healthy adults

November 14, 2016
Healthy young people may be able to help prevent the onset of high blood pressure by eating diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, according to a preliminary study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions ...

Study links omega-3s to reduced mortality

June 22, 2016
A recent meta-analysis in Scientific Reports supports a link between EPA and DHA omega-3 intake and a reduced risk of death by any cause. The meta-analysis included 11 studies involving 371,965 participants and 31,185 death ...

Paper highlights best practices for omega-3 clinical trials with cardiovascular outcomes

February 2, 2016
A paper published this week in the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids sheds new light on recent neutral studies questioning the benefits of omega-3s for heart health. The paper titled, "Conducting ...

Different types of PUFAs are associated with differential risks for type 2 diabetes

July 19, 2016
Different types of circulating polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are associated with differing future risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a large European study authored by Nita Forouhi of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at ...

New study finds EPA and DHA omega-3s lower risk of coronary heart disease

January 3, 2017
EPA and DHA omega-3s reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), according to results of a new, comprehensive meta-analysis published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Why fish intake by pregnant women improves the growth of a child's brain

January 14, 2016
Researchers at Tohoku University's School of Medicine have found an explanation for the correlation between eating fish during pregnancy, and the health of the baby's brain.

Recommended for you

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

Study shows cigarette makers shifted stance on nicotine patches, gum

August 17, 2017
The use of nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers or nasal sprays—together called "nicotine replacement therapy," or NRT—came into play in 1984 as prescription medicine, which when combined with counseling, helped ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.