A new research paper has been published in Nature Communications that examines the relationship between the omega-3 index and the risk of death for all sorts of reasons. It found that people with higher levels of omega-3 EPA and DHA blood levels (i.e., omega-3 index) lived longer than people with lower levels. In other words, those people who died with relatively low levels of omega-3s died prematurely, meaning if everyone else were the same they might have lived longer if their levels had been higher.
Numerous studies have examined the link between omega-3 fatty acids and diseases of the heart, brain, eyes, and joints, but few studies have looked at their possible effects on lifespan.
Japan’s omega-3 intake and blood levels are higher than most other countries in the world AND they happen to live longer than most. Coincidence? Possibly or maybe a high omega-3 index is part of the explanation.
Studies reporting estimated fish or omega-3 fatty acid intake have reported death risk benefits for all reasons, but “diet record” studies have been due to the inaccuracy in determining actual EPA and DHA -Includes little weight. Studies with biomarkers – ie blood levels – of omega-3 are much more credible because the variable “exposure” is objective.
This new paper is from the FORCE – Fatty Acids & Outcomes Research – Consortium. FORCE is made up of researchers around the world who have collected data on blood fatty acid levels in large groups of subjects (or cohorts) and followed those individuals over many years to determine which diseases they develop. This data is then aggregated to provide a clearer picture of these relationships than a single cohort can provide. The current study focused on omega-3 levels and the risk of death during the follow-up period and is the largest study to date to have done this.
In particular, this report is a prospective analysis of pooled data from 17 different cohorts from around the world, including 42,466 people who have been followed for an average of 16 years. During this time, 15,720 people died. When FORCE researchers examined the risk of death for some reason, those with the highest EPA + DHA levels (i.e., in the 90th percentile) had a statistically significant, 13% lower risk of death than those with EPA + DHA levels in the U.S. 10. Percentile. Looking at three main causes of death – cardiovascular disease, cancer and all other causes combined – they found statistically significant risk reductions (again compared to the 90th versus the 10th percentile) of 15%, 11% and 13%, respectively.
The range between the 10th and 90th percentile for EPA + DHA (in terms of the omega-3 levels of the red blood cell membrane, i.e. the omega-3 index) was about 3.5% to 7.6%. Other research shows that an optimal omega-3 index is 8% or more.
In the new paper, the authors found that these results suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may have a positive impact on overall health and thus slow the aging process, and that they are not only good for heart disease.
Since all of these analyzes have been statistically adjusted for several personal and medical factors (e.g. age, gender, weight, smoking, diabetes, blood pressure, etc. plus omega-6 fatty acid levels in the blood), we believe these are the strongest to date published data support the view that higher levels of omega-3s in the blood can help improve overall health over the long term. “
Dr. Bill Harris, founder of the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI) and lead author
Dr. Harris helped develop the omega-3 index 17 years ago as an objective measure of the body’s omega-3 status. Measurement of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes provides an accurate picture of total omega-3 intake over the past four to six months. To date, the omega-3 index has been featured in more than 200 research studies.
“This comprehensive look at observational studies of circulating omega-3s shows that the long-chain omega-3s EPA, DPA, and DHA, normally derived from seafood, are strongly associated with all-cause mortality, while omega-3 levels of the plants 3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is less, “said Dr. Tom Brenna, Professor of Pediatrics, Human Nutrition and Chemistry at Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin.
Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI)
Harris, WS et al. (2021) Blood n-3 fatty acid levels as well as total and cause-specific mortality from 17 prospective studies. Nature communication. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22370-2.