Poor omega-3 status can be as powerful an indicator of early death as smoking, according to a recent study


A recent paper1 found that a low omega-3 index can be as powerful a predictor of early death as standard risk factors like total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, treatment for high blood pressure, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, and widespread diabetes. The result is based on data drawn from the Framingham study and analyzed. The Framingham Heart Study is one of the world’s longest-running studies that provided unique insights into risk factors for cardiovascular disease and led to the development of the Framingham Risk Score, which is based on eight basic standard risk factors: age, gender, smoking, Hypertension treatment, diabetes status, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol (TC) and HDL cholesterol.

Previous research2, involving 2,500 participants from the Framingham Offspring Cohort, found that baseline EPA and DHA levels in red blood cells were significantly and inversely related to the risk of death from all causes. In this study, patients with the lowest omega-3 index were 33% less likely to succumb to death in the follow-up years (median 7.3 years).

In the current study, 2,240 participants in the Framingham descendant cohort without predominant cardiovascular disease who had red blood cell fatty acid measurements and relevant baseline clinical covariates were examined during an 11-year follow-up. After evaluating the association of the standard risk factors and 28 fatty acid metrics with all-cause mortality and adjusting for age and gender, the results showed that four of the 28 fatty acid metrics, including the omega-3 index, were at least as good as predicting all-cause mortality as the standard risk factors. In addition, a model with the four fatty acid metrics plus smoking and diabetes was a significantly higher predictor of mortality than the fatty acid metrics or smoking and diabetes alone.

“It is interesting to note that in Japan, where the average omega-3 index is above 8%, the expected lifespan is about five years longer than in the United States, where the average omega-3 index is around 5, therefore In practice, nutritional choices that alter the omega-3 index may actually extend life, “said Michael McBurney, PhD, FCNS-SCN, lead researcher on this study, in a press release. “In the final combined model, smoking and the omega-3 index appear to be the easiest risk factors to modify. A current smoker (aged 65) is expected to subtract more than four years of life (compared to not smoking), a life shortening which corresponds to a low vs. a high omega-3 index. “

“The information contained in the levels of the four red blood cell fatty acids was as useful in predicting all-round mortality as the information on lipid levels, blood pressure, smoking and diabetes,” added Bill Harris, PhD, president of Fatty. added Acid Research Institute and author of this study. “This speaks to the strength of the Omega-3 Index as a risk factor and should be viewed as just as important as the other established risk factors, perhaps even more important.”


  1. McBurney MI et al. “A Red Cell Fatty Acid Fingerprint Predicting All-round Mortality Risk: The Framingham Junior Cohort.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online prior to going to press June 16, 2021
  2. Harris WS et al. “Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in erythrocytes are inversely linked to mortality and cardiovascular disease incidence: The Framingham Heart Study.” Journal of Clinical Lipidology, vol. 12, no. 3 (2018): 718-727