The risk of death from COVID-19 infection may be elevated in patients with lower omega-3 index levels, according to a pilot study posted to medRxiv while undergoing peer review. Researchers from the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI) noted previous study findings suggest the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids—specifically the long chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—may have beneficial effects in COVID-19 patients.
The FARI team collaborated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, California, to review clinical outcomes and blood samples for 100 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19; 14 of the patients died. Patients were grouped into four quartiles based on Omega-3 Index (O3I), a measure of EPA and DHA in the blood. In age- and sex-adjusted regression analysis, those in the highest quartile—with an O3I of >5.7%—were 75% less likely to die compared to those in the lower three quartiles.
Researchers concluded: “Despite the known mechanisms by which IRMs and omega-3 fatty acids support the active, endogenous resolution of inflammatory mechanisms, to our knowledge this is the first study that has explored the relationship between omega 3 tissue levels and the most severe COVID-19 outcome, death. Larger studies are urgently needed to confirm these findings. If an association is confirmed with a larger sample size, then this would lay the groundwork for testing the effects of increased oily fish intake and/or an inexpensive, safe, and widely available dietary supplement (DHA/EPA capsules) to optimize outcomes during this public health crisis.”
In a release on the study, the lead author, Arash Asher, MD, commented: “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.”
Omega-3 expert James H. O’Keefe, Jr., MD, (Director of Preventive Cardiology, Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, MO, and not involved with the study), further commented to FARI: “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.”
The O3I test, originally developed by Bill Harris, founder of OmegaQuant, provides a snapshot of EPA and DHA levels in red blood cells. From that point, the O3I is segmented into three risk zones: high risk (<4%), intermediate risk (4%-8%), and low risk (>8%). OmegaQuant has stated most consumers are in the lower section of the intermediate risk zone, raising their risk of multiple health issues.