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Omega-3 low in family physicians – half thought they had enough, but only 1 in 20 were OK – April 2017

Omega-3 Status among Family Physicians: A Catalyst for Increased Patient Recommendations

The FASEB Journal, April 2017, vol. 31 no. 1 Supplement 971.6
Nathan Matusheski1, Keri Marshall2, Sonia Hartunian-Sowa1 and Michael McBurney1
1Nutrition Science and Advocacy, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ
2Global Lipid Science and Advocacy, DSM Nutritional Products, Columbia, MD

Introduction The heart health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are well established. Although Americans are advised to consume 2 servings of seafood per week, only a small percentage of individuals follow this guidance, and as a result do not have blood levels of EPA and DHA associated with cardioprotection. We hypothesized that blood levels of EPA and DHA are low among family physicians, and that knowledge of their own omega-3 status may influence attitudes toward patient communication and recommendations about omega-3s.

Methods Attendees of an annual medical conference, who visited a DSM exhibitor booth and had their badges scanned (n=479), were asked to volunteer in a research study to learn their omega-3 index. Family physicians who volunteered (n = 340), signed an informed consent (New England IRB #20160824, Jul 20, 2016), completed a survey of dietary fish intake and fish oil supplement use, and had a whole blood sample (finger stick) taken by a certified professional. Blood samples, informed consent and dietary surveys were shipped to Omega Quant, LLC (Sioux Falls, SD) for fatty acid analysis, data collation and anonymization. After the conference, family physicians visiting the DSM booth were contacted by email to survey their omega-3 recommendations to their patients. Statistical analysis (ANOVA, α=0.05) was conducted using SAS JMP 12.2.0.

Results Average age of the 340 family physicians was 48.0±0.7 y (mean±SEM) and 59% were female. The average omega-3 index was 5.2±0.1% and percentage of HUFA as omega-6 fatty acids was 75±0.4%. Fifty seven percent of family physicians reported not consuming the recommended 2 or more servings per week of fish and 22% reported using an omega-3 supplement 2 or more times per week. Omega-3 index differed with reported fish consumption (p<0.0001; 2 serv./wk, 4.8±0.1% [n=194]; ≥2 serv./wk, 5.7±0.1% [n=146]) and fish oil supplement use (p<0.0001; ≤1x/wk, 4.9±0.1% [n=265]; 2–5x/wk, 5.8±0.2% [n=44]; >5x/wk, 6.9±0.3% [n=31]).
Although prior to the test, 51% of family physicians believed their omega-3 status would be in a desirable range, only 5% of those tested had omega-3 index values >8%. In a post-conference survey of those who had their badges scanned, 100 responded. Sixty percent of the 65 physicians who learned about their own omega-3 index were likely to recommend increased EPA and DHA to their patients (versus 41% of the 35 who declined testing).

Conclusions Blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were low among family physicians. Fish intake and fish oil supplement use were each associated with increased blood levels of EPA and DHA. A discrepancy was observed between physicians’ perceptions of their own omega-3 status and actual tested values. Increased awareness of personal omega-3 status among physicians may be a valuable tool in facilitating patient communication and recommendations about dietary EPA and DHA intake.

Support or Funding Information: DSM Nutritional Products is a global supplier of vitamins, nutritional lipids and other nutritional ingredients including long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.