Researchers from the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI) and collaborators at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and in Orange County, California provided the first direct evidence that omega-3 may reduce the risk of dying from the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Their study was published in the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential type of fat that offers many health benefits. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The study included 100 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 whose admission blood samples had been stored.
Clinical outcomes for these patients were obtained and blood was analyzed for the Omega-3 Index (O3I, red blood cell membrane EPA+DHA levels) at OmegaQuant Analytics, LLC in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Fourteen of the patients died.
The 100 patients were grouped into four quartiles according to their O3I with 25 percent of the patients in each quartile.
There was one death out of 25 patients with O3I higher than 5.7 percent and 13 deaths out of 75 patients with O3I lower than 5.7 percent.
In age-and-sex adjusted regression analyses, those with O3I higher than 5.7 percent were 75 percent less likely to die compared with those in the lower three quartiles. In other words, the relative risk for death was about four times higher in those with O3I lower than 5.7 percent compared to those with higher levels.
“While not meeting standard statistical significance thresholds, this pilot study – along with multiple lines of evidence regarding the anti-inflammatory effects of EPA and DHA – strongly suggests that these nutritionally available marine fatty acids may help reduce [the] risk for adverse outcomes in COVID-19 patients. Larger studies are clearly needed to confirm these preliminary findings,” said Dr. Arash Asher, the lead author of the study.
Omegametrix CEO Dr. Clemens von Schacky agreed with Asher, but with a caveat.
“Asher et al have demonstrated that a low Omega-3 Index might be a powerful predictor for death from COVID-19. Although encouraging, their findings clearly need to be replicated,” von Schacky said.
Omega-3 expert Dr. James H. O’Keefe, Jr. observed: “An excessive inflammatory response, referred to as a ‘cytokine storm,’ is a fundamental mediator of severe COVID-19 illness. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) have potent anti-inflammatory activities, and this pilot study provides suggestive evidence that these fatty acids may dampen COVID-19’s cytokine storm.” (Related: Omega-3 supplements proven to be powerful medicine by drastically reducing CXCL-10 inflammation factors across the body.)
The FARI research team is seeking funding to expand their preliminary observations.
Recommended omega-3 intake for healthy people and those with certain health conditions
Plant sources such as nuts and seeds are rich in ALA while fish, seaweed and algae can provide DHA and EPA fatty acids. If you are taking omega-3 supplement, it’s important to make sure that it contains enough EPA and DHA – the most useful types of omega-3 fats.
Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, but only in very small amounts. Thus, getting EPA and DHA from foods and dietary supplements is the only practical way to increase levels of these omega-3 fatty acids in your body.
Most health organizations recommend a minimum of 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for ALA is 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women.
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are vital before, during and after pregnancy. Nearly all official guidelines recommend adding 200 mg of DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding – in addition to the regular dosage. Meanwhile, several global and national organizations recommend 50 to 100 mg per day of combined EPA and DHA for infants and children.
For people with certain health conditions, higher amounts are often recommended. The following health conditions have been shown to respond to omega-3 supplements.
One study followed 11,000 people who took 850 mg of combined EPA and DHA every day for 3.5 years. They experienced a 25 percent reduction in heart attacks and a 45 percent reduction in sudden deaths. The American Heart Association recommends that people with coronary heart disease take 1,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily while those with high triglycerides take 2,000 to 4,000 mg daily. (Related: Consuming EPA and DHA omega-3 produces a “desirable” Omega-3 Index score and also reduces your risk of heart disease.)
Depression and anxiety
Multiple studies suggest that high doses of omega-3, ranging from 200 to 2,200 mg per day, can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. A supplement with higher amounts of EPA than DHA may be optimal for people with mood and mental disorders.
A high intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to a reduced risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers. However, controlled studies need to confirm whether your intake of omega-3 fatty acids affects your cancer risk.
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