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X Fact
February 3, 2021
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Higher Omega-3 Index Levels Associated with Lower Risk for Death from COVID-19

Although there are many good reasons to expect omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) to be beneficial in COVID-19, most obviously the anti-inflammatory nature of these fish oil fatty acids, there have been no actual data to show it. But now there are! 

Our group just published a pilot study that included 100 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 for whom admission blood samples had been stored. The study was done at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in collaboration with the Fatty Acid Research Institute in SiouxFalls, SD. 

We compared the Omega-3 Index (O3I, a measure of red blood cell membrane EPA+DHA levels analyzed at OmegaQuant Analytics in Sioux Falls) in the 14 patients who died to that of the 86 who survived. We found that the group of patients with the highest O3I values (in this case, >5.7% which included 25 patients) were 75% less likely to die compared with the 75 patients below 5.7%. 

Although not quite meeting the standard statistical test for significance (p<0.05; our p-value was 0.07), these pilot data at least strongly suggest that having a higher O3I may be protective against the worst of COVID-19’s outcomes – death. But larger studies are needed and are currently being planned.

The report was published in the journal “Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids” onJanuary 20, 2021.

Words You May Not Know
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
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Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat the body cannot make on its own. They are an essential fat, which means they are needed to survive. We get the omega-3 fatty acids we need from the foods we eat. Fish are the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids. Some plants also contain omega-3 fatty acids. There are two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids in fish — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The form of omega-3 in plants is called alpha-linolenic (ALA).

Who Wrote This X Fact
William S. Harris PhD FAHA
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William Harris holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota. Since 1980, his research has focused on omega-3 fatty acids and human lipid metabolism, platelet function, cardiovascular and neurocognitive disease. He has been on the medical faculties of Kansas University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and is currently at the University of South Dakota. He has been the principal investigator on 5 omega-3 related NIH grants and has published over 300 omega-3-related papers. Dr. Harris was a co-author on 3 American Heart Association Advisory Statements on fatty acids and heart health.  In 2004 he and his colleague Clemens von Schacky, MD proposed that the “Omega-3 Index” (RBC EPA+DHA) be considered as a new risk factor, for not only cardiovascular but also neurocognitive diseases. In 2009, he started OmegaQuant Analytics, LLC to offer the test to researchers, healthcare providers and consumers. In 2020, he founded the Fatty Acid Research Institute, a non-profit entity to foster research on the connections between fatty acids and health.

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