Omega-3 levels may better predict mortality risk than cholesterol

A heart surgeon at work. Although higher HDL cholesterol levels are correlated with better heart health, efforts to show that HDL cholesterol has a protective effect in humans have come up empty-handed. REUTERS

Measuring the levels of Omega-3 fatty acids present in the blood may indicate the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and mortality more profoundly than serum cholesterol, researchers have claimed.

The serum cholesterol level is the total amount of cholesterol present in the blood.

A higher "Omega-3 Index" -- a combination of the EPA and DHA (two important types of Omega-3) content of red blood cell membranes -- is associated with a 33 per cent reduced risk of death due to total cardiovascular disease (CVD) events, total coronary heart disease events, and total strokes, the study showed.

"We all know that the serum cholesterol level is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD), and since the latter is a major cause of death, it would be reasonable to expect that a high cholesterol level would portend higher risk for premature death," said lead author William Harris, researcher at Britain's University of Nottingham.

For the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology, the team compared the total serum cholesterol and Omega-3 fatty acids, two "risk factors" for heart disease, in 2,500 individuals aged 60 years, who were free of known cardiovascular disease (CVD) at baseline.

Researchers primarily focussed on total mortality (death from any cause) as an end-point, but also tracked death from CVD, cancer and other causes. In addition, they reported the associations between Omega-3 Index levels and a risk for any CVD event -- fatal or not -- whether heart attack or stroke.

The results showed that the category most strongly associated with the Omega-3 Index was non-cardiovascular disease, non-cancer deaths -- deaths from all other causes.

"When baseline serum cholesterol levels were substituted for the Omega-3 Index in the same multi-variable models, the former was not significantly associated with any of the tracked outcomes whereas the latter was related to four of the five outcomes assessed," Harris said. (IANS)