The new research was published today in the journal Nature Communications. The paper, titled Blood n-3 Fatty Acid Levels and Total and Cause-Specific Mortality from 17 prospective studies, was written by a who-is-who of more than 50 scientists of fatty acids from four continents, all grouped under the banner of fatty acids are and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE).
While the results aren’t exactly a map of the legendary Ponce de Leon fountain, they are both compelling and significant, said senior author Dr. William S. Harris, PhD, head of the Fatty Acid Research Group based in Sioux Falls, SD. Harris is also affiliated with the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.
“While there are a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids, there isn’t that much about all-cause mortality,” Harris told NutraIngredients-USA. “I think this is now one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have.”
Early research was hampered by a lack of baselines
Early omega-3 research was hampered by the lack of a simple method of determining baseline levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the two major long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in test subjects’ bodies. It made it difficult to say exactly what was going on, and experts in the field believe it contributed to some widespread ambiguous research for the ingredients over the years.
About 17 years ago, Dr. Harris and a colleague developed the omega-3 index, a method for measuring these levels in red blood cells and a cheap and minimally invasive test. The existence of this biomarker and a rapid calculation method led to the inclusion of these measurements becoming more or less standard practice for omega-3 research. As a result, there is now a large dataset that contains these measurements from which to draw conclusions, although not all of the tests included in the present study used this particular test methodology.
For the paper published April 22, 2021, the FORCE team pulled data for a pooled analysis of circulating n-3 PUFA measurements on 42,466 people. The median follow-up time in the 17 studies examined by the researchers was 16 years. During this time, 15,720 or 37% of the subjects had died.
The underlying studies were conducted in Australia, Canada, France, Finland, Iceland, Japan, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The shortest follow-up period was a little over 5 years and the longest a little over 32 years.
The highest omega-3 levels lower the risk of death for all reasons
The researchers divided the more than 42,000 test subjects into quintiles based on their measured omega-3 index values. They rated the median values of the highest and lowest quintiles, which roughly corresponds to the people sitting in the 90th and 10th percentiles.
The 90th percentile corresponded to an omega-3 index of 7.6%, while the 10th percentile corresponded to 3.5%. Other research has shown that an omega-3 index of 8% or higher has the greatest health benefits.
The researchers found that the 90th percentile group had a 13% lower risk of death than the lowest group for all reasons, which was a statistically significant finding. In addition, they were able to analyze statistically significant risk reductions for three main causes of death. Cardiovascular disease reported a 15% reduction, cancer an 11% reduction, and a 13% reduction in death from all other causes combined.
Dr. Harris summarized the results: “Since all of these analyzes were statistically adjusted for several personal and medical factors (e.g. age, gender, weight, smoking, diabetes, blood pressure, etc. plus omega-6 fat in the blood) we believe that this is the strongest data published to date, which supports the view that higher levels of omega-3s in the blood can help improve overall health over the long term. “
“This comprehensive look at observational studies of circulating omega-3s shows that the long-chain omega-3s EPA, DPA, and DHA, which are normally derived from seafood, are strongly linked to all-cause mortality, while the levels of plant-based omega-3s are strongly linked to overall mortality. Fatty acids 3-alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are less, ”said Tom Brenna, PhD, professor of Pediatrics, Human Nutrition and Chemistry at Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin.
Source:. Nature communication.
Blood n-3 fatty acid levels as well as total and cause-specific mortality from 17 prospective studies
Volume 12, Item number: 2329 (2021)
Authors: Harris WS et al.