Omega-3 or Cholesterol Levels: Which One Actually Predicts Your Death Risk?

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Do Omega-3 or Cholesterol Levels Best Predict Your Death Risk?

It might come as a surprise to you, but a recent study revealed that if given the choice to measure omega-3 or cholesterol levels, Omega-3 Levels are a better predictor of your risk of death!  According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology, Omega-3 levels are statistically associated with risk of death from 4 of 5 mortality events studied, whereas total cholesterol level was not!

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

I’m pretty sure everyone’s risk of dying sits at an unchangeable 100%, guys.

While that might be true, what we’re talking about here is a little different, and it might change the way you think about your diet and health!

What Was This Fish Oil and Cholesterol Study?

We won’t have you sift through the data, that’s our job! But we do want to give you a little background on how this study went down.

You see, in a continuation of the original Framingham Heart Study that began in 1948, scientists sought to determine the extent to which omega-3 levels are related to mortality and death from any cause. They also wanted to see if omega-3 fatty acid levels are associated in any way with risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and related incidents.

So, they took 2500 participants free of cardiovascular disease from the Offspring cohort (the adult children from the original participants) and measured the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids present in red blood cells (RBC).  To make this easy to remember, we’ll call this measurement the Omega-3 Index (the Omega-3 levels in their blood).

Then, they compared this Omega-3 Index to the risk of death from any cause in individuals ages starting at 63 and following up with them until age 73.

What did they find?

If you’ve kept up with the blog here at GLX3, you know of the many benefits experienced by taking an omega-3 supplement, especially one that uses green lipped mussels as its main ingredient. So, you can probably guess what they found:

The researchers found that overall mortality was 35% lower in in those participants at the highest end of the Omega-3 Index compared to the those in the lowest quintile!

But wait:

What about the relationship between Omega-3 Levels and cardiovascular diseases?

Well, over the span of the study, researchers also recorded deaths by cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and similar incidents.  They also tracked the association between Omega-3 levels and any CVD incident, whether it resulted in death or not.  These included common events for people with high cholesterol, like heart-attacks and strokes.

I think you can see where these results are headed:

Yep, the higher your Omega-3 Index, the lower your risk for overall heart and cardiovascular events!

Just think of how varied the health benefits are for those of us taking Omega-3 supplements!  Plus, this study was only conducted with simple fish oil, not with green lipped mussel oil which contains an additional rare Omega-3 called Eicosatetraenoic Acid (ETA) for added benefits!

Cholesterol and Mortality-What’s the deal?

We’ve been discussing Omega-3 levels and their relationship with risk of death from different causes.

But I thought this was about cholesterol, too!  I mean, wouldn’t cholesterol be a better predictor of mortality, at least in regards to CVD?

Well, this was the new and fascinating component of The Framingham Study:

The relation between higher omega-3 levels and lower risk of death isn’t exactly new, and has been reported in multiple past studies.  What was new to this study was the comparison between the Omega-3 Index and a commonly known risk factor for coronary heart diseases (CHD)-serum cholesterol levels.

Since we know that high serum cholesterol levels tend to result in CHD, and CHD rates as a high cause of death in the Western world, lead researcher Dr. Harris understands that “it would be reasonable to expect that a high cholesterol level would portend higher risk for premature death.”

However, “In the head-to-head comparison of the Omega-3 Index and total cholesterol for total [mortality] and CVD mortality and for the 3 CVD outcomes, [the Omega-3 Index] was significantly associated with risk for 4 of the 5 outcomes, whereas the total cholesterol level…was not associated with risk for any of these outcomes.”

Total cholesterol level was not statistically associated with  risk of death for total mortality and CVD/CHD-related outcomes?!  And my Omega-3 levels are  associated with my risk of dying from these events?  

Why aren’t my doctors testing my Omega-3 levels, then?!

This is an excellent question! We’ll cover it in the last section as well as a simple dietary change you can make to increase your Omega-3 levels and reduce your own risk!

Going Forward: Your Omega-3 Levels and Your Health

It’s clear how important your Omega-3 levels are in determining your overall wellness and risk of a range of diseases.  Doctors and researchers understand this too, and plan to conduct further studies so they can determine whether they should add your Omega-3 Index as a biomarker tested during preventive blood screening.

For now, you can easily take preventive action yourself to boost your Omega-3 levels by adding a natural green lipped mussel oil supplement to your diet!

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