Red blood cell (RBC) levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, the omega-3 index, expressed as a percent of total fatty acids) are inversely related to risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Although several mechanisms underlying this relationship have been proposed, understanding the associations between the omega-3 index and markers of CVD in the community can shed additional light on this question. The objectives of this study were to define the relations between the omega-3 index and clinical factors and to determine the heritability of the omega-3 index.

RBC samples (n = 3196) drawn between 2005 and 2008 from participants in the Framingham Study [Examination 8 of the Offspring cohort plus Examination 3 of the Omni (minorities) cohort] were analyzed for fatty acid composition by gas chromatography.

The mean (SD) omega-3 index was 5.6% (1.7%). In multivariable regression models, the factors significantly and directly associated with the omega-3 index were age, female sex, higher education, fish oil supplementation, dietary intake of EPA + DHA, aspirin use, lipid pharmacotherapy, and LDL-cholesterol. Factors inversely associated were Offspring cohort, heart rate, waist girth, triglycerides and smoking. The total explained variability in the omega-3 index for the fully adjusted model was 73%, which included major components due to heritability (24%), EPA + DHA intake (25%), and fish oil supplementation (15%).

The variability in the omega-3 index is determined primarily by dietary and genetic factors. An increased omega-3 index is associated with a generally cardioprotective risk factor milieu.

PMID: 22727409

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