Omega-3 could decrease mortality rate in postmenopausal women, study suggests

By Emma Jane Cash

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
Women with a high omega-3 status are up to 20% less likely to die from any cause, compared to those with low levels of DHA and EPA, finds a new study.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology, ​looked at associations between omega-3 index scores - a measure of EPA and DHA levels in red blood cells - and all-cause mortality rates in a population of postmenopausal women over a 15 year period. 

Women with the highest omega-3 status were found to be 20% less likely to die from any cause than those with the lowest omega-3 levels, said the team.

"This is the largest -but far from the only - study to confirm that blood levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, in this case the omega-3 index, are independent predictors of risk for death,"​ said Dr. William Harris, lead author of the study and founder of OmegaQuant Analytics, where the samples were analysed. "These findings support the view that higher EPA and DHA omega-3 levels are associated with better overall health."

The research, which was funded by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the United States, followed more than 6,500 women to assess the relationship between omega-3 index and health outcomes. Overall, researchers found that higher levels of red blood cell PUFAs correlated significantly with a lower risk of non-cardiovascular disease (CVD) and non-cancer deaths.

"This study adds to a larger body of evidence demonstrating the positive correlation between higher omega-3 index levels and general wellness,"​ said Adam Ismail, executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). "The results gathered over a 15-year period support the notion that adequate omega-3 intake is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, just like exercise and following a well-balanced diet."

A portion of salmon a day can keep the doctors away

Harris and colleagues reported that people in the highest group of omega-3 status, with an average omega-3 index score of 7.11%, had significantly lower risk of all cause mortality than those with the lowest status, with an average omega-3 index score of just 3.59%. Furthermore, participants who died (n= 1851) during follow up were found to have had a lower omega-3 index at baseline, than those who lived.

The team also reported that higher levels of EPA were found to have a significant inverse relationship with risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) death, but the same was not found for DHA. 

A higher overall omega-3 index was also associated with older age, greater alcohol intake, higher education, increased physical activity, more frequent use of cholesterol-lowering medications, less smoking and lower BMI.

Researchers concluded in their study that two and a half fillets of salmon each week provided an adequate amount of omega-3 PUFAs to be considered a safe high amount. They said that estimated intakes suggest that approximately 1g of EPA and DHA per day would be required to increase omega-3 status for those in the lowest omega-3 status group to a levelwhere they were in the highest group. This amount also translates to between one and three softgel omega-3 supplements or one teaspoon of a liquid omega-3 supplement daily.

Salmon, tuna and sardines are fish which are high in omega-3 PUFAs.

Source: Journal of Clinical Lipidology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jacl.2016.12.013
"Red blood cell polyunsaturated fatty acids and mortality in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study"
Authors: William S. Harris, et al

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