By Manfred Eggersdorfer
Professor for Healthy Ageing University Medical Center Groningen (UMGG) and Senior Vice President of Nutrition Science and Advocacy at DSM
A new global omega-3 status map indicates that adults in most regions of the world have a low to very low status of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly EPA and DHA. The first analysis of its kind, it is hoped that the findings can be used when developing both national and global guidelines regarding omega-3 intake.
A global understanding of omega-3 levels
The map is part of a new structured review, published in Progress in Lipid Research. It was created by analyzing 298 studies of EPA and DHA levels in the bloodstreams of healthy adults across the world, identifying which regions are more at risk of chronic illness. Regions classified as having very low EPA and DHA blood levels (<4%) included North, South and Central America, Central and Southern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa. The Sea of Japan, Scandinavia and regions with indigenous populations or populations who have not adopted Westernized food habits were classified as having high status of EPA and DHA (>8%).
The regions with a higher omega-3 status, such as Scandinavia and the Sea of Japan, tend to consume a larger amount of fish than other regions, and often a lower amount of omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oil sources. The regions with low omega-3 levels are widespread – particularly in the Western world. It may not only reflect their dietary habits, but also consumer attitudes towards supplementation.
Public health implications
As stated by the World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases are estimated to be the cause of death of approximately 38 million people worldwide every year. Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA in particular) have long been associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular conditions and cognitive decline. The paper highlights that a significant proportion of the population are at increased risk of non-communicable diseases due to low omega-3 status.
A strong case for health authorities
There is now a strong case for health authorities to issue recommendations relating to omega-3 and reduction in the risk of experiencing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cognitive decline. It is also hoped that this will lead to other recommendations in this area, such as a healthy diet and increased physical activity.
With the comprehensive analysis of data now available, these new recommendations will not only give the general population guidance on adequate omega-3 intake, but also highlight the risks of low levels of bloodstream EPA and DHA.