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Omega-3 decreases heart disease and COVID: Harris and Patrick, video and transcript - Dec 2021

#68 Dr. Bill Harris on the Omega-3 Index, Increasing Omega-3 to Improve Longevity & Heart Disease Risk
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Video highlights

  • 00:01:59 - How early studies on dietary fats and cholesterol levels spawned the field of omega-3 research.
  • 00:06:44 - How flaws in early study designs may have led to inconsistencies in findings.
  • 00:11:39 - How pre-operative omega-3 loading reduces blood loss during surgery.
  • 00:14:32 - How standards of "normal" bleeding time may be abnormally high in Western countries.
  • 00:16:26 - How different types of omega-3s share structural similarities but not cardioprotective effects.
  • 00:20:28 - How genetic engineering of plants may yield abundant, sustainable omega-3s in the future.
  • 00:22:42 - How the Omega-3 Index was created.
  • 00:27:38 - How red blood cell concentrations of omega-3s better reflect long-term omega-3 status than plasma measures.
  • 00:32:06 - How genetic variants influence omega-3 needs.
  • 00:50:08 - How people with high omega-3 concentrations are less likely to die prematurely.
  • 01:00:27 - How byproducts of omega-3 metabolism reduce inflammation.
  • 01:13:17 - How people with high omega-3 concentrations are half as likely to die from COVID-19.
  • 01:15:35 - How DHA (an omega-3) keeps the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein from entering cells.
  • 01:18:14 - How concerns over the omega-6/omega-3 ratio may be unfounded.

"But interesting to me is that all these other causes of death – from electrocution to suicide, to car accidents, to kidney failure, you know, everything people died of – the higher the omega-3, the lower the risk." - Dr. Bill Harris

Her comments on sections of the inteview

Low cardiovascular disease incidence observed in Inuits.
Scientific interest in omega-3 fatty acids first emerged about 50 years ago, when Danish researchers Hans Olaf Bang and Jørn Dyerberg sought answers to why the Inuit, an indigenous people living in northwestern Greenland, had the world's lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease-related deaths – despite having what seemed like a rather unhealthy diet.

Bang and Dyerberg eventually attributed the Inuit's cardiovascular health to their high blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, effectively putting omega-3s on the nutrition map. Nowadays omega-3s and their alphabet-soup names, EPA, DHA, and ALA, are practically household words.

The omega-3 research was gaining traction in other places, too. Dr. Bill Harris and other scientists in the United States also began studying omega-3s, looking first at their effects on platelet aggregation – an early step in the development of atherosclerosis – and eventually expanding their research to investigate the omega-3s' effects on aspects of cardiovascular, neurocognitive, immunological, and respiratory health, among others.

Despite some inconsistencies in the findings from interventional studies (likely due to variations in study design), the epidemiological data have been remarkably consistent, revealing robust links between omega-3 intake and reduced risk of premature death.

Is there an omega-3 intake-associated mechanism affecting COVID-19 severity?
An emerging area of interest in omega-3 research centers on immunity, specifically against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Recent epidemiological data suggest that people with high omega-3 blood concentrations are about half as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to those with low concentrations. And computer modeling suggests that the omega-3 DHA prevents the spike protein – the primary antigenic component of SARS-CoV-2 – from binding to cells and gaining entry. These findings, if replicated in vivo, can have huge relevance for managing the global pandemic – and saving millions of lives.

Resolving and reducing inflammation may be central to many benefits of omega-3.
What's driving the healthful effects of omega-3s? An abundance of evidence points to a large class of byproducts of omega-3 metabolism called specialized pro-resolving mediators, or SPMs. These unique molecules actively seek out and reduce the inflammation that drives many chronic diseases.

Of course, some scientists and healthcare professionals have expressed concerns about possible risks associated with omega-3s. For example, it's well known that omega-3s extend bleeding time and slow clot formation, an effect often referred to as "blood-thinning," which could increase bleeding risks following trauma or during surgery. But these concerns haven't panned out, and data indicate that the effect of omega-3s on bleeding time is similar to that achieved with aspirin, the drug of choice for most people at risk for clots.

Similarly, some studies showed that the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in blood was cause for concern. But Dr. Harris explains that the concerns are likely unfounded. Rather than focusing on decreasing omega-6 intake to improve the ratio, most people would probably benefit from increasing omega-3 intake instead, to improve overall blood concentrations.

Improving omega-3 index values may reduce early death.
Dr. Harris and his colleague, Dr. Clemens von Schacky, recognized the need to quantify blood concentrations of omega-3s that increased (or decreased) risk for cardiovascular disease and related death. They identified a target omega-3 level, dubbed the "Omega-3 Index," that some have suggested is a measurable risk factor for sudden cardiac death.

In general, people who have healthy omega-3 status, especially those above 8% omega-3 content of red blood cell membranes, are far less likely to die from all causes of premature death. The converse is also true: Lower levels markedly increase a person's risk of death.

How much omega-3 do humans need to achieve these levels and reap the benefits?
Dietary and supplemental forms of the fatty acids differ in their content and quality, and people may carry genetic variants (such as APOE4) or exhibit other factors that influence individual responses to omega-3s. However, a combined dose of EPA & DHA between 1.75 and 2.5 grams per day takes most people from 4% to 8%. In other words, into the target range generally associated with improved outcomes.

Unfortunately, the human need for omega-3s could feasibly outstrip the available, non-renewable sources. Genetic engineering of plants that produce high-yield – and high quality – EPA and DHA show promise as a strategy to meet growing needs.

A robust and growing body of evidence demonstrates that omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that play critical roles in multiple aspects of human health. In this episode, Dr. Harris and I discuss the importance of omega-3s, the mechanisms that underlie their effects, and how quantifying them may provide a marker for cardiovascular disease risk.


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VitaminDWiki - PATRICK in the title (10 as of Dec 2021)

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