Only 3% of study population had ‘good’ omega-3 levels linked to lower heart disease

Two-thirds of middle-aged German women have low omega-3: Increased risk of heart disease

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Image: © iStockPhoto / Kagenmi
Image: © iStockPhoto / Kagenmi

Related tags Omega-3 index Omega-3 fatty acids Omega-3 fatty acid Eicosapentaenoic acid

More than 70% of middle-aged women are at an increased risk of heart disease risk because of low omega-3 status, says a new German population study that recommends nearly all should increase intake.

The benefits of good omega-3 intake are long established, with a raft of EFSA-approved claims for the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)relating to brain health, vision, blood pressure and heart health.

However, a new German population study concludes that the huge majority of middle aged women simply do not get enough omega-3 – finding that 97.3% of all women in the study had levels below the 8% threshold suggested for heart disease risk reduction.

In fact, the team led by Sandra Gellertfrom the University Hannover, Germany found 9% of middle-aged women were at the highest risk of heart disease (with an omega-3 status of less than 4%), and a further 62.8% were at risk of increased risk (with a status level between 4% and 6%).

“Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Europe and have a higher incidence in women than in men,”​ said Gellert and colleagues, writing in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA)​.

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“The prevalence of cardiovascular diseases increases with age. While CVD occurs in 10.0% of the women aged 20 to 39 years, the frequency is 35.5% among women between 40 and 59 years.”

The team noted that the levels of EPA and DHA in our body are known to be linked to heart disease risk -  with the lowest cardiovascular risk at an omega-3 index (% of EPA and DHA of total fatty acids) of greater than 8% and the highest risk at an omega-3 index in people with a status level of less than 4%.

“The majority of the study population had an omega-3 index between 4 and 6%, while the omega-3 index in 9.0% of the women was less than 4%,”​ said the team – adding that such low status also increases the risk of other conditions like cognitive decline and depressive symptoms.

“Our results show that the long-chain omega-3 PUFA status in German women (40 − 60 years) is and should be improved to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline.”

Population study

The research team, backed by funding from Rottapharm Madaus GmbH – now a part of Meda AB, analysed data from 446 middle aged women who took part in a much larger nationwide, cross-sectional, multicenter study known as VitaMinFemin (vitamin- and mineral status among German women) to determine the status of selected nutrients in different stages of life.

From the original cohort of 2,367 of all ages, the team focused in on 471 women aged between 40 and 60 years and then applied inclusion criteria to ensure all data was available – leaving a final analysis group of 446 women.

“The omega-3 index is classified as very low (less than 4%), low (4% − 6%), moderate (6% − 8%) or high (greater than 8%),”​ wrote the team – noting that the classification was developed to grade the risk of cardiovascular events and has been applied to the ranking of the omega-3 status many other studies.

 Gellert and colleagues reported that the average omega-3 index score for the overall group was 5.49.

“In our study population, a total of 97.3% of women showed an omega-3 index below 8%, and the majority of women (62.8%) had a low omega-3 index (4 − 6%),”​ they said. “Therefore, the LC omega-3 PUFA status of these middle-aged women was insufficient and should be improved.”

However, the authors noted that current recommendations for the intake of essential omega-3 fatty acids for the general population in Germany are only given for the omega-3 precursor fatty acid ALA, “although it is known that the conversion rate from ALA to EPA and especially to DHA is very low.”

“Dietary reference intakes for EPA and DHA from several expert scientific organizations and authoritative bodies vary from 250 mg to 500 mg EPA and DHA per day for healthy adults,” ​they said.

Source: Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA)
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2017.01.009
Low long chain omega-3 fatty acid status in middle-aged women”
Authors: Sandra Gellert, et al

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