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Background
Keywords
Findings
Authors
What is already known on this subject?
What does this study add?

Text begins

Background

Cardioprotective properties have been associated with two fatty acids—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The Omega-3 Index indicates the percentage of EPA+DHA in red blood cell fatty acids. Omega-3 Index levels of the Canadian population have not been directly measured.

Data and methods

Data for respondents aged 20 to 79 from cycle 3 (2012/2013) of the Canadian Health Measures Survey were used to calculate means and the prevalence of Omega-3 Index coronary heart disease (CHD) risk cut-offs—high (4% or less), moderate (more than 4% to less than 8%), and low (8% or more)—by sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics, including fish consumption and use of omega-3 supplements. Associations between the Omega-3 Index and CHD-related factors including biomarkers, risk factors, and previous CHD events, were examined in multivariate regression models.

Results

The mean Omega-3 Index level of Canadians aged 20 to 79 was 4.5%. Levels were higher for women, older adults, Asians and other non-white Canadians, omega-3 supplement users, and fish consumers; levels were lower for smokers and people who were obese. Fewer than 3% of adults had levels associated with low CHD risk; 43% had levels associated with high risk. No CHD-related factor was associated with the Omega-3 Index when control variables were taken into account.

Interpretation

Omega-3 Index levels among Canadian adults were strongly related to age, race, supplement use, fish consumption, smoking status and obesity. Fewer than 3% of adults had Omega-3 Index levels associated with low risk for CHD.

Keywords

Coronary heart disease, DHA, EPA, fish consumption, RBC fatty acid composition

Findings

The fatty acid composition of red blood cells (RBC) is an indicator of health and nutritional status. Two fatty acids—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—have been associated with cardioprotective effects.1-4 Incorporation of EPA and DHA into red blood cell membranes changes the properties of the cell. Such changes include improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood triglyceride levels. [Full Text]

Authors

Kellie Langlois (kellie.langlois@canada.ca) is with the Health Analysis Division at Statistics Canada. Walisundera M.N. Ratnayake is with the Nutrition Research Division at Health Canada.

What is already known on this subject?

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are associated with cardioprotective effects.
  • The Omega-3 Index (the sum of EPA+DHA in red blood cells) can be used to estimate the percentage of Canadians at higher risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).

What does this study add?

  • Cycle 3 of the Canadian Health Measures Survey provides, for the first time, direct (blood) measures of the Omega-3 Index on a national sample of Canadians.
  • Omega-3 Index levels vary with sex, age, race, supplement use, fish consumption, smoking status, and obesity.
  • Fewer than 3% of Canadians aged 20 to 79 have Omega-3 Index levels associated with low risk for CHD.
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