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Omega-3 levels in the blood say more than cholesterol about the risk of premature death

Omega-3 levels in the blood say more than cholesterol about the risk of premature deathEat plenty of oily fish from clean oceans or take a fish oil supplement to make sure that you get enough of the essential omega-3 fatty acids. It lowers your risk of premature death by protecting you against atherosclerosis and a number of other diseases. In fact, blood levels of omega-3 tell a lot more than levels of cholesterol, according to a new study that is published in Journal of Clinical Lipidology.

Omega-3 fatty acids support all cell membranes, especially EPA and DHA that control a number of biochemical processes in the cells. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your brain function, nervous system, cardiovascular system, lipid content in your blood, blood pressure, immune system, and for controlling inflammation, which is something that is seen with many chronic diseases. Moreover, the omega-3 fatty acids are involved in a biochemical interplay with the omega-6 fatty acids, where both the ratio between the two types of omega-3 and the source from which they originate are important.

High levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of early death by 33 percent

In the new study, the scientists measured blood content of the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), to see if that played a role in the development of several life-threatening diseases. The study involved 2,500 people, all of whom where children of participants of the original Framingham Study. Framingham is a small town located near Boston, the United States, and ever since the 1950s, the Framingham Study has made people worried about eating fat. The study has, however, been strongly criticized, as a number of factors other than dietary cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis.
In the new study from Framingham, the scientists specifically measured the content of EPA and DHA in the membranes of the red blood cells. The measurements showed that the risk of dying of disease was reduced by 33 percent in those participants who had the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells.
At baseline, none of the study participants had any cardiovascular diseases, and at the end of the study, the scientists looked at all-cause mortality. They specifically focused on deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes, and they studied the relation between blood levels of omega-3 and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke.
At the time the study was initiated, the participants were 66 years of age, with slightly more women than men. For seven years, the researchers followed the participants, and the study results were adjusted for all confounding factors.

It is new for scientists to compare blood levels of cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acids

Several earlier studies have revealed a link between a high omega-3 content in blood and a lower risk of early death, but as something entirely new, the most recent Framingham study compares levels of both cholesterol and omega-3. According to lead researcher, doctor William Harris, it is commonly known that elevated cholesterol levels are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of deaths in the Western world, one would also expect high cholesterol levels to increase the risk of premature death. However, according to the new study, this is not the case. What the scientists saw was that high cholesterol levels did not increase the risk of premature death, provided you have a high omega-3 content in your blood at the same time.
The researchers are now interested in more studies to support their new discovery and determine whether one should include as part of standard blood samples a measurement of the omega-3 index together with measurements of cholesterol and blood sugar. Other studies indicate that elevated cholesterol levels are only dangerous in people who also have metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes.

Did you know that the omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, inhibits inflammation, which, according to other studies, is the single largest cause of atherosclerosis and premature death?

American dietary guidelines acquit cholesterol but not sugar

Previous warnings against cholesterol in the official American dietary guidelines have been replaced by a statement explaining that cholesterol is no longer considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption. Similarly, the revised American dietary guidelines have introduced limitations on sugar consumption, stating that sugar should not represent more than 10% of the diet’s calorie content. Some diet experts believe that this limit is still too high.

Facts about cholesterol

  • Cholesterol is an essential compound that serves as a structural component of all cell membranes
  • Cholesterol is involved in the production of sex hormones, stress hormones, vitamin D, and coenzyme Q10
  • Ever since the 1950s, cholesterol has been criticized and called the leading cause of atherosclerosis
  • Animal fat contains cholesterol, but the human liver actually makes the lion’s share of our cholesterol from carbohydrate
  • If your cholesterol levels are elevated, you may have disturbances in your sugar metabolism. This should be addressed
  • Elevated cholesterol is a part of metabolic syndrome that also includes hypertension, impaired insulin sensitivity, and an enlarged waist circumference. Metabolic syndrome is an early stage of type 2 diabetes
  • It is common for cholesterol levels to go up with increasing age, and that is normally not a problem
  • Older people with elevated cholesterol generally live longer than older people with low cholesterol levels
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help regulate cholesterol levels

Different omega-3 fatty acids and their sources

ALA: Mainly linseed oil and rapeseed oil, walnuts, and chia seeds
EPA and DHA: Mainly oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, eel, lumpfish, rainbow trout, cod liver oil, and krill oil. EPA and DHA are also found in large concentrations in the brains of humans and animals. Many people have difficulty with converting ALA into the two active forms of omega-3, EPA and DHA


Omega-3 Index better predicts risk for death than serum cholesterol, study shows. News Medical Life Sciences. March 15, 2018

Harlan Krumholz. Inflammation: Is it the New Cholesterol? Pharma & Healthcare medicine. August 2017

Uffe Ravnskov. Kolesterol- myter og realiteter. Hovedland 2008

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