Omega-3 levels in blood erythrocytes are good predictors of mortality risk


According to a study by the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) in collaboration with the Fatty Acid Research Institute in the United States, the level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood is as good a predictor of mortality from any cause as smoking states and several universities in the United States and Canada. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, uses data from a long-term study group, the Framingham Offspring Cohort, who have been monitoring residents of this Massachusetts city in the United States since 1971.

Researchers have found that omega-3 levels in blood erythrocytes (called red blood cells) are very good predictors of mortality risk. The study concludes that “a higher level of these acids in the blood through regular consumption of fatty fish increases life expectancy by almost five years,” said Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, postdoc at the IMIMIM Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group and author of the study, points out. In contrast, “If you smoke regularly, your life expectancy will be 4.7 years shorter, just as you would if you have high levels of omega-3 acids in your blood,” he adds.

2,200 people monitored over eleven years

The study analyzed blood fatty acid level data from 2,240 people over the age of 65 who were monitored for an average of 11 years. The aim was to validate which fatty acids act as good predictors of mortality beyond the factors already known. The results show that four types of fatty acids, including omega-3, fulfill this role. What is interesting is that two of these are saturated fats, which have traditionally been associated with cardiovascular risk, but in this case indicate longer life expectancy. “This confirms what we’ve seen lately,” says Dr. Sala-Vila, “Not all saturated fat is necessarily bad.” In fact, diet cannot alter their blood levels, as is the case with omega-3 fatty acids.

These results can help personalize dietary recommendations for ingestion based on the blood concentrations of the various fatty acids.

What we found is not insignificant. It reinforces the idea that small changes in diet in the right direction can have a much stronger effect than we think, and it is never too late or too early to make these changes. “

Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, Postdoctoral Researcher, Research Group on Cardiovascular Risks and Nutrition at IMIM

The researchers will now try to analyze the same indicators in similar population groups, but of European origin, to find out whether the results obtained can also be transferred outside of the USA. The American Heart Association recommends eating oily fish such as salmon, anchovies, or sardines twice a week for the health benefits of omega-3 acids.


IMIM (Medical Research Institute of the Hospital del Mar)

Journal reference:

McBurney, MI, et al. (2021) Using an erythrocyte fatty acid fingerprint to predict all-cause mortality risk: the Framingham descendant cohort. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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