Could widespread omega-3 levels be putting American hearts at risk?

About 95% of Americans may have sub-optimal levels of omega-3s that put them at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, says a new study.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated that 95.7% of a nationally representative sample of Americans has an omega-3 index – a quantification of the fatty acid status of a person – below 4%, reported to be a high risk indicator for coronary heart disease.

“Suboptimal [long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCn-3 PUFA)] concentrations are common among U.S. adults despite repeated emphasis on increasing seafood consumption,” wrote the researchers in Nutrients . “Hispanic individuals and individuals aged 20 to 59 may be particularly important populations to focus on given the high prevalence of suboptimal LCn-3 PUFA. Notably, no subpopulation had a majority of individuals with LCn-3 concentrations above suboptimal, thus highlighting the need for improving LCn-3 PUFA levels in the food supply.”

‘Disconcerting but not surprising’

Commenting independently on the study Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us that the results were disconcerting but not surprising.

“They reinforce that low EPA/DHA intake has reached epidemic 5 proportions in the US,” said Dr Rice. “There’s only one way to get out of the dire straits into which we’ve gotten ourselves. Increase EPA/DHA intake! Clearly, results from this study support the need for a DRI for EPA+DHA.”

 

Study details

Scientists from DSM Nutritional Products, the University of British Columbia, and Cornell University analyzed data from 1,386 people over the age of 20 from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The LCn-3 concentrations represent the combination of EPA, DHA, and DPA omega-3s relative to total fatty acids. The data showed that the mean LCn-3 PUFA concentration was 2.07%.

Over 80% of the people surveyed had LCn-3 below concentrations recommended for cardiovascular health, said the researchers, and over 90% had LCn-3 PUFA concentrations
below the level associated with a reduced risk of cardiac death.

Subgroup analysis revealed that Hispanics were the most likely to have omega-3s below the recommended levels.

“Estimates project that by 2030, 40.5% of the U.S. population will have some form of [cardiovascular disease (CVD)] and the real indirect costs for all CVD are estimated to increase by 61% from 2010 to 2030,” they wrote.

“A systematic review estimated that increasing omega-3 intake and status could result in a 6.9% reduction in the incidence of CVD- related events and avoid hospital utilization by $2.06 billion per year among US adults over 55 years, suggesting that improving LCn-3 PUFA intake, and by extension status, could have significant cost implications for the US healthcare system.”

Source: Nutrients
2015, Volume 7, Number 12, Pages 10282-10289, doi: 10.3390/nu7125534
“Suboptimal plasma long chain n-3 concentrations are common among adults in the United States, NHANES 2003-2004”

Authors: R.A. Murphy, E.A. Yu, E.D. Ciappio, S. Mehta, M.I. McBurney

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