In the early 1970’s, Danish physicians observed that Greenland Eskimos had a low incidence of heart disease and arthritis despite their high fat diet. Bang and Dyerbery proposed that two of the fats they consumed in large quantities, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), were responsible for this benefit. More recent research suggests that EPA and DHA have a role in prevention in areas including atherosclerosis, heart attack, depression, and cancer.
EPA and DHA are called “long-chain” omega-3s, because they have at least 20 carbons. Long-chain omega-3s have critical functions in health, and are considered to be essential fatty acids. They are essential because human physiology cannot sufficiently synthesize them, so that diet is the essential source. The American diet has an excess of omega-6 fatty acids which compete with the omega-3 fatty acids for incorporation into complex lipids and cell membranes. Biomarkers of the status of these essential fatty acids have been developed and convenient kits are available which utilize a single drop of blood from a fingerstick. An omga-3 index can be computed (harris and Von Schacky) as well as an indication of omega-3/omega-6 balance (Lands et al).
Study Objective: The objective of this study is to determine whether patient EPA and DHA status in whole blood is related to their health status, the incidence and severity of chronic illnesses and as a surrogate, the health care costs over the previous 3 years. A weakness of many studies is their inability to statistically account for potential covariates Therefore, exercise, diet, quality of relationships, health care, and multiple other factors will be assessed using an on line questionnaire that has been developed by the Foundation.
A longer-term objective is to engage patients with a broader program for patient-centered participatory integrative health optimization. If associations are found between whole blood omega-3 fatty acid status and health status or health care costs in the baseline study, an interventional follow up study will be proposed. The intervention would consist of a randomized, placebo controlled study of DHA supplements or a vegetable oil placebo over a period of 3 to 5 years. The endpoints would again be the incidence and severity of chronic physical and psychological illnesses and health care costs.