Higher omega-3 levels may reduce risk of death from COVID-19

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Anyone in the mood for salmon? A new study finds higher omega-3 levels in the bloodstream may reduce one’s risk of dying from a COVID-19 infection.

Conducted by the Fatty Acid Research Institute in collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Medical Centers in Los Angeles and Orange County, these findings are the first to uncover direct evidence linking omega-3 fatty acids with improved coronavirus health outcomes. Numerous scientists had theorized that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients, but all of that was ultimately conjecture at best.

The new study involved blood samples taken from 100 COVID-19 patients taken to a local hospital. After collecting information on whether each patient eventually recovered or passed away, researchers analyzed those blood samples according to the Omega-3 Index. More specifically, the team measured O3I and red blood cell membrane EPA+DHA levels.

Fourteen of the COVID-19 patients in the study ended up passing away from their illness.

Omega-3 is keeping more COVID patients alive

Based off of those omega-3 readings, study authors separated all 100 patients into four groups based on their O3I levels. Each group accounted for 25 percent of the total patient group. Only one person died within the highest O3I group (O3I>5.7%) while 13 passed away from the remaining three groups (O3I<5.7%).

After performing a series of age and sex-adjusted analyses, study authors discovered that patients with the highest levels of omega-3 (O3I >5.7%) had been 75 percent less likely to pass away in comparison to the other three groups. In simpler terms, the “relative risk” of death is four times greater for those with lower omega-3 levels.

“While not meeting standard statistical significance thresholds, this pilot study – along with multiple lines of evidence regarding the anti-inflammatory effects of EPA and DHA – strongly suggests that these nutritionally available marine fatty acids may help reduce risk for adverse outcomes in COVID-19 patients. Larger studies are clearly needed to confirm these preliminary findings,” says lead study author Arash Asher, MD, in a media release.

“Asher et al have demonstrated that a low Omega-3 Index might be a powerful predictor for death from COVID-19. Although encouraging, their findings clearly need to be replicated,” adds Clemens von Schacky, MD.

How do omega-3 fatty acids combat COVID-19?

Researchers find they will need to do more research to conclusively figure that out. However, Dr. James H. O’Keefe, Jr., an omega-3 expert at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, has one theory.

“An excessive inflammatory response, referred to as a ‘cytokine storm,’ is a fundamental mediator of severe COVID-19 illness. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) have potent anti-inflammatory activities, and this pilot study provides suggestive evidence that these fatty acids may dampen COVID-19’s cytokine storm,” he concludes.

Dr. O’Keefe was not directly involved in this study.

The study is published in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids.

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