The Omega-3 Index, a biomarker developed by Drs. Bill Harris and Clemens von Schacky, measures the amount of EPA + DHA as a percentage of total fatty acids in red blood cell membranes.[1] The Omega-3 Index has been proposed as a measurable biomarker of sudden cardiac death risk.[1] and may provide a means of standardizing methodologies that produce equivalent measures in clinical trials, allowing researchers to interpret clinical trial outcomes more accurately.[2]

Since its inception in 2004, the Omega-3 Index has been assessed in numerous populations and correlates closely with health. Some of the most compelling findings include:

  • A higher Omega-3 Index was associated with a 35 percent reduced risk of dying from all causes of premature death.[3]
  • Increases in Omega-3 Index scores correlated with improved microstructural integrity of both white and gray matter in multiple areas of the brain and enhanced executive function.
  • Lower Omega-3 Index scores correlated with higher red blood cell distribution width, an indicator of nutrient deficiency or disease.[4]
  • The Omega-3 Index is a powerful predictor of heart disease, similar to other well-known risk factors.[1]
  • COVID-19 patients with higher Omega-3 Index scores (5.7 percent or higher) were 75 percent less likely to die from the disease than those with the lowest scores.[5]

Measuring omega-3 concentrations in red blood cells provides reliable assessments of long-term intake, is more accurate than measuring omega-3 concentrations in plasma or serum (which fluctuate daily), and is highly reflective of fatty acid composition in most tissues, except the brain.[6] [7] [8] [9] Determination of an Omega-3 Index relies on the use of specific, standardized laboratory procedures that provide consistent, valid results.[10]

Most people living in the United States and other western countries have an Omega-3 Index of approximately 4 percent. Robust evidence suggests, however, that an Omega-3 Index of 8 to 11 percent provides the greatest health benefits.[1] To raise an individual's Omega-3 Index from 4 percent to the recommended range of 8 percent or greater, intake should be between 1,750 and 2,500 milligrams (1.75 and 2.5 grams) per day._[11]

It is noteworthy that gender and age influence Omega-3 Index scores in humans. A meta-analysis of 51 studies found lower levels of arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and DHA as a percentage of plasma lipid in men compared to women,[12] suggesting that gender-specific differences occur in long-chain fatty acid metabolism, possibly modulated by sex hormones. Similarly, young women tend to have higher DHA and lower EPA levels than older women, suggesting that younger women have an enhanced ability to convert EPA to DHA, likely due to DHA's important role in reproduction and development.[13] Furthermore, fatty acid levels tend to shift with age such that the Omega-3 Index is higher and linoleic acid levels are lower in older age.[13] [14]

Topics related to Omega-3

view all
  • Depression
    Depression – a neuropsychiatric disorder affecting 322 million people worldwide – is characterized by negative mood and metabolic, hormonal, and immune disturbances.
  • Salmon roe
    Salmon roe, the internal egg mass found in female salmon, is rich in protein, vitamins, and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
    BDNF is a growth factor known for its influence on neuronal health and for its role in mediating the beneficial cognitive effects associated with exercise.
  • Hallmarks of aging
    The hallmarks of aging are observable biological patterns of dysfunction that accrue in a biological organism over time.
  • Toll-like receptors
    Toll-like receptors are a family of pattern recognition receptors expressed on the surface of immune and other cells that play an important role in intestinal permeability and inflammaging.
  • Blood-brain barrier
    The blood-brain barrier comprises the sets of membranes that separate the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral circulatory system. This barrier allows passage of nutrients and cell signals from the bloodstream to the CNS while excluding harmful substances.