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New research has shown that a low omega-3 index is as powerful a predictor of early death as smoking.
The groundbreaking finding comes from data analyzed from the Framingham Study, one of the longest-running studies in the world that has provided unique insights into risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It also led to the development of the Framingham Risk Score, which is based on eight basic standard risk factors including age, gender, smoking, hypertension treatment, diabetes status, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol (TC), and HDL cholesterol.
The research paper was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The risk of cardiovascular disease can be reduced by changing behavioral factors such as unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and tobacco and alcohol consumption, morbidity and delaying death.
One of these nutrition-based biomarkers is fatty acids. The acids most clearly linked to mortality are the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are typically found in fish such as salmon and herring, as well as in omega-3 supplements such as fish and algae oils.
In a 2018 report that included 2,500 participants from the Framingham descendant cohort followed over a median of 7.3 years, red blood cell EPA and DHA levels were significant at baseline and inversely with risk for the Death from all causes connected.
In fact, people with the highest omega-3 index were 33% less likely to get the disease during the follow-up years than those with the lowest omega-3 index. Similar associations were found in the Memory Study of the Women’s Health Initiative, the Heart and Soul Study, and the Ludwigshafen Risk and Cardiovascular Health Study.
Optimal amounts of omega-3
The omega-3 index measures the amount of EPA and DHA in the membranes of the red blood cells and is a marker for the omega-3 status – with an optimal omega-3 index of 8% or higher, an intermediate value between 4% and 8%, and a low omega-3 index of 4% and below.
According to the researchers, the finding that any fatty acid-based metric would have predictive power similar to the established standard risk factors was unexpected, and it also suggests that red blood cell fatty acids reflect an in vivo milieu that consolidates into a measure of that Effects of all these standard risk factors on the body.
Michael McBurney, PhD, FCNS-SCN, lead researcher, said, “It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the average omega-3 index is above 8%, the expected lifespan is about five years longer than that of the United States States where the average omega-3 index is around 5%. Therefore, dietary choices that alter the omega-3 index can, in practice, extend life.
“In the final combined model, smoking and the omega-3 index appear to be the most easily modifiable risk factors. A current smoker (aged 65) is likely to subtract more than four years of life (compared to not smoking), a life shortening that corresponds to a low vs. a high omega-3 index. “
Dr. Bill Harris, author of the study, added, “The information about the levels of four red blood cell fatty acids was as useful in predicting all-cause mortality as the information about lipid levels, blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.
“This speaks to the strength of the Omega-3 index as a risk factor and should be seen as just as important as the other established risk factors, maybe even more so.”