Long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n3-PUFA), including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA/20:5n-3), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA/22:5n-3), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA/22:6n-3), experimentally reduce cardiovascular risk. Yet, effects on cause-specific and total mortality and potential dose-responses remain controversial. Most observational studies have assessed self-reported dietary intakes, rather than objective biomarkers; while most randomized trials have tested effects of adding supplements to background dietary intake and evaluated secondary prevention, limiting inference for dietary n3-PUFA or primary prevention.
We investigated associations of plasma phospholipid EPA, DPA, DHA, and total n-3 PUFA with total and cause-specific mortality among generally healthy older adults not taking fish oil supplements.
Prospective cohort, 1992–2008.
Four U.S. communities.
2,692 U.S. adults age 75±5 years, free of prevalent coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, or heart failure.
Phospholipid fatty acids and cardiovascular risk factors were measured in 1992 using standardized methods. Relationships with total and cause-specific mortality through 2008, and incident total (fatal+nonfatal) CHD and stroke, were assessed using Cox proportional-hazards.
During 30,829 person-years, 1,625 deaths (including 570 cardiovascular deaths), 359 fatal and 371 nonfatal CHD events, and 130 fatal and 276 nonfatal strokes occurred. After multivariable-adjustment, n3-PUFA biomarkers associated with lower total mortality, with extreme-quintile hazard ratios (95% CI) of 0.83 for EPA (0.71–0.98), 0.77 for DPA (0.66–0.90), 0.80 for DHA (0.67–0.94), and 0.73 for total n3-PUFA (0.61–0.86) (P-trend≤0.008 each). Lower risk was largely attributable to fewer cardiovascular, rather than noncardiovascular, deaths, in particular fewer arrhythmic cardiac deaths (total n3-PUFA: hazard ratio=0.52, 95%CI=0.31–0.86; P-trend=0.008). Based on relations with total mortality, individuals in the highest quintile of phospholipid n3-PUFA, versus the lowest, experienced 2.22 greater years of life (95%CI=0.75–3.13) after age 65.
Temporal changes in fatty acid levels and misclassification of death causes may cause underestimated associations; and unmeasured/imperfectly measured covariates, residual confounding.
Circulating individual and total n3-PUFA are associated with lower total mortality, especially CHD death, in older adults.
Primary Funding Source
National Institutes of Health.