Blood docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in vegans: Associations with age and gender and effects of an algal-derived omega-3 fatty acid supplement

Barbara Sarter, Kristine S. Kelsey, Todd A. Schwartz, William S. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

38 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background & aims: Several studies have demonstrated that vegetarians and vegans have much lower plasma concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids (i.e., docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids) when compared to those who eat fish. The purposes of this study were 1) to define the age and/or sex-specific docosahexaenoic plus eicosapentaenoic acids levels in red blood cell membranes (expressed as a percent of total fatty acids; hereafter the omega-3 index) in long-term vegans, and 2) to determine the effects of a vegetarian omega-3 supplement (254mg docosahexaenoic plus eicosapentaenoic acids/day for 4 months) on the omega-3 index. Methods: A sample (n=165) of vegans was recruited, and their omega-3 index was determined using a dried blood spot methodology. A subset of 46 subjects with a baseline omega-3 index of <4% was given a vegetarian omega-3 supplement for 4 months and then retested. Results: The mean±SD omega-3 index was 3.7±1.0% which was similar to that of a cohort of omnivores (deployed US soldiers) from a recently-reported study. Among the vegan cohort, the index was significantly higher in females than males (3.9±1.0% vs. 3.5±1.0%; p=0.026) and was directly related to age (p for trend=0.009). The omega-3 index increased from 3.1±0.6% to 4.8±0.8% (p=0.009) in the supplementation study. Conclusions: We conclude that vegans have low baseline omega-3 levels, but not lower than omnivores who also consume very little docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids. The vegans responded robustly to a relatively low dose of a vegetarian omega-3 supplement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-218
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Nutrition
Volume34
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015

Keywords

  • Ageing
  • Biomarkers
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Omega-3 index
  • Vegan
  • Vegetarian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine

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