Science Update

New Research Finds Link Between Marine Omega-3 PUFA Levels and Risk of All-Cause Mortality and Aging

It is well known in the scientific literature that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) play a critical role in supporting a healthy inflammatory response. However, the efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular (CV)-related diseases remains controversial.

A 2019 meta-analysis from the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that daily omega-3 fish oil supplementation compared to a placebo significantly reduced the risk for most CV events, including heart attack and mortality from coronary heart disease.

According to a recent study published on April 22, 2021 in the Nature Communications journal, all-cause mortality risk (after adjusting for relevant risk factors) was significantly lower in those individuals with the highest circulating long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, specifically those derived from marine sources. A comparison was made with participants who had the lowest omega-3 fatty acid levels.

In a prospective analysis of pooled data from 17 cohort studies, researchers examined the results of the Fatty Acid and Outcome Research Consortium (FORCE), including 42,466 individuals who were followed for 16 years. Circulating omega-3 PUFA levels in red blood cell membranes were measured using the Omega-3 Index, an objective measurement tool that has been used in more than 200 research studies to date. This index most accurately represents the overall omega-3 intake from the prior 4 to 6 months.

The results of the FORCE study review indicated a lower risk for all-cause death for individuals in the highest quintile for circulating long-chain (20 to 22 carbons) omega-3 PUFA levels by 15% to 18% (p < 0.003), specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). Similar associations with mortality were seen with secondary outcomes, including CV disease, cancer, and all other causes. There was no significant association between 18-carbon alpha-linolenic acid (another essential fatty acid) and reduced risk of all-cause mortality. According to the researchers, these findings suggest that higher blood levels of marine-derived omega-3 PUFAs may lower the risk of premature death.

Additional research from the Cardiovascular Health Study published in the British Medical Journal in 2018 found that higher blood levels of EPA and DPA were significantly associated with overall healthy aging, defined as “surviving past age 65 free of chronic disease and maintaining good functional status.”

These results suggest that adding omega-3 fish oils (EPA and DHA) to a patient’s daily supplement regimen, along with consuming more omega-3-rich fatty fish, may be beneficial to support healthy aging, longevity, and overall health. For maximum benefits, it is important to encourage patients to supplement with high-quality, high-potency fish oils that are formulated to contain triglyceride-bound EPA and DHA (the form found in nature) versus the synthetic ethyl ester forms.

By Caitlin Higgins, MS, CNS, LDN