‘Public health significance’: DHA omega-3 linked to better artery health in the general population

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Naked King
© Getty Images / Naked King
Increased levels of omega-3s may be associated with less aortic calcification among men in the general population, with the effects seemingly driven by DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), says a new study.

Data from 998 forty-something men based in Pittsburgh, Honolulu, and Shiga, Japan indicated that every 2% increase in DHA levels was associated with a 35% reduction in Agatston aortic calcification score, a measure of aortic calcification.

On the other hand, no significant associations were observed for levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), reported scientists from the University of Pittsburgh (USA), Korea University (South Korea), the University of Hawaii (USA), and Shiga University of Medical Science (Japan).

“Our study findings have public health significance,”​ they wrote in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases​. “All over the world, the commercialization of the use of fish oil or LCn-3PUFAs [long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids] is rapidly expanding. This growing enthusiasm needs to be supported by the robust scientific data on intake of LCn-3PUFAs.

“Evidence concerning LCn-3PUFAs and atherosclerosis is limited in the general population. Evidence generated from this study adds to the evidence on the anti-atherosclerotic property of LCn-3PUFAs especially DHA in healthy middle-aged men. The findings of this study, if replicated in larger and longer follow-up studies, would help support intake of LCn-3PUFAs policy in the general population.”

‘Just one piece of the puzzle’

Commenting independently on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “What I find really interesting is not that there was an inverse association of omega-3 blood levels and aortic calcification, but that the results appeared to be driven by DHA, not EPA. Which fatty acid is best for maintaining cardiovascular health or treating specific cardiovascular conditions is an ongoing debate and there appears to be an uptick in research differentiating the benefits of one fatty acid over the other.

“While one fatty acid may provide more of a benefit for condition X, the other fatty acid may provide more of a benefit for condition Y. Today, the best we can say is that there are demonstrated cardiovascular benefits associated with both EPA and DHA.

Wednesday's report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention​ that heart disease deaths are on the rise means that we need to be more diligent about taking care of ourselves. While it's just one piece of the puzzle, everyone needs to be eating fatty fish and/or taking an EPA/DHA-rich supplement.”   

Study details

The researchers assessed omega-3 levels and aortic calcification in 300 Caucasian Americans, 101 African Americans, 287 Japanese Americans, and 310 Japanese in Japan.

The data showed that, overall, almost 57% of the men had some degree of aortic calcification, with omega-3 levels, and DHA levels in particular, linked to lower calcification scores, they said.

The potential mechanism of action may be via the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s, said the researchers.

“To our knowledge, this is the first community-based study examining the relationship between blood biomarkers of LCn-3PUFAs [long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids] and aortic calcification in asymptomatic middle-aged men across different races/ethnicities from two countries in a standardized manner,” ​they wrote.

The researchers noted that randomized control trials are warranted to help “disentangle the differential association of EPA and DHA with cardiovascular outcomes and atherosclerosis”.

Source: Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2019.04.011
“Serum Long-Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Aortic Calcification in Middle-Aged Men: The Population-Based Cross-sectional ERA-JUMP Study”
Authors: H. Mahajan et al.

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