Patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a major component of neural tissues, and supplementation with fish oils improves autonomic tone and reduces risk for CVD. A link between low DHA status and less mature sleep patterns was observed in newborns.

We investigated the relations between red blood cell (RBC) levels of DHA and OSA severity in 350 sequential patients undergoing sleep studies. Severity categories were defined as none/mild, moderate, and severe, based on apnea hypopnea index (AHI) scores of 0 to 14, 15 to 34, and > 34, respectively.

After controlling for age, sex, race, smoking, BMI, alcohol intake, fish intake, and omega-3 supplementation, RBC DHA was inversely related with OSA severity. For each 1-SD increase in DHA levels, a patient was about 50% less likely to be classified with severe OSA. The odds ratios (95% CI) were 0.47 (0.28 to 0.80) and 0.55 (0.31 to 0.99) for being in the severe group versus the none/mild or moderate groups, respectively.

These findings suggest that disordered membrane fatty acid patterns may play a causal role in OSA and that the assessment of RBC DHA levels might help in the diagnosis of OSA. The effects of DHA supplementation on OSA should be explored.

PMID: 21897776

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