Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels Could Be Better Than Cholesterol In Predicting Mortality

A new study funded by the National Institutes of Health has found that measuring a person's blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids might be more effective than measuring serum cholesterol when it comes to predicting the risk of death.

For their paper, the team of researchers led by William Harris of the University of Nottingham in England analyzed 2,500 participants in the 1948 Framingham Heart Study's Offspring group, which was composed primarily of the participants' children. According to, the subjects had an average age of 66-years-old at the time of the new study and did not have any form of cardiovascular disease. The researchers, who documented their findings in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology, then followed the participants for about seven years, measuring the levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids as it related to their risk of dying or developing heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.

After adjusting for several variables that could skew the results, the researchers determined that those who consumed the most omega-3 were 33 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who consumed the least, regardless of the cause of death. Furthermore, those who had a higher "Omega-3 Index," or the combined amount of EPA and DHA in red blood cell membranes, were found to be at less risk for cardiovascular and coronary heart disease events and strokes.

While previous research had also suggested that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids could reduce a person's risk of death, wrote that the new study stood out because Harris and his colleagues had also compared the effects of having low Omega-3 Index ratings and having high serum cholesterol levels, both of which could potentially predict the chances of heart disease.

"When baseline serum cholesterol levels were substituted for the Omega-3 Index in the same multi-variable models, the former was not significantly associated with any of the tracked outcomes, whereas the latter was related to four of the five outcomes assessed," Harris said in a statement.

According to WebMD, omega-3 fatty acids can be found in several types of food, primarily fish such as anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, lake trout, and tuna for the EPA and DHA variants. A third type of omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can be found in nuts, seeds, and other plant sources. The publication also stressed that actually consuming foods with omega-3 two to three times a week is better than taking supplements and that these acids' health benefits can run the gamut from lowering triglyceride levels to possibly protecting against Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

In the light of the new findings, Harris and his team stressed that more research is needed to see if the results can be replicated, and to determine whether doctors should also screen for omega-3 fatty acid levels during blood tests.