The omega-3 index as a risk factor for coronary heart disease

William S. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


Because blood concentrations of n-3 (or omega-3) fatty acids (FAs) (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids) are a strong reflection of dietary intake, it is proposed that a n-3 FA biomarker, the omega-3 index (erythrocyte eicosapentaenoic acid plus docosahexaenoic acid), be considered as a potential risk factor for coronary heart disease mortality, especially sudden cardiac death.Theomega-3 index fulfillsmany of the requirements for a risk factor including consistent epidemiologic evidence, a plausible mechanism of action, a reproducible assay, independence from classic risk factors, modifiability, and, most important, the demonstration that raising levels will reduce risk for cardiac events. Measuring membrane concentrations of n- 3 FAs is a rational approach to biostatus assessment as these FAs appear to exert their beneficial metabolic effects because of their actions in membranes. They alter membranephysical characteristics and the activity of membrane-bound proteins, and, once released by intracellular phospholipases from membrane stores, they can interact with ion channels, be converted into a wide variety of bioactive eicosanoids, and serve as ligands for several nuclear transcription factors, thereby altering gene expression. The omega-3 index compares very favorably with other risk factors for sudden cardiac death. Proposed omega-3 index risk zones are (in percentages of erythrocyte FAs): high risk, <4%; intermediate risk, 4-8%; and low risk, >8%. Before assessment of n-3 FA biostatus can be used in routine clinical evaluation of patients, standardized laboratory methods and quality control materials must become available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1997S-2002S
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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