Fish consumption, blood docosahexaenoic acid and chronic diseases in Chinese rural populations

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):127-40. doi: 10.1016/s1095-6433(03)00016-3.


The Chinese traditional diet is low in fat. However, there is regional variability in the amount, type of fat consumed and the pattern of chronic diseases. An epidemiological survey of 65 rural counties in China (6500 subjects) was conducted in the 1980s. We have re-examined the red blood cell fatty acid and antioxidant composition, with fish consumption. Fish consumption correlated significantly with the levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in red blood cells (RBC) (r=0.640, P<0.001), selenium (r=0.467, P<0.001) and glutathione peroxidase (r=0.333, P<0.01) in plasma. The proportion of DHA in RBC was inversely associated with total plasma triglyceride concentrations. A strong inverse correlation between DHA in RBC and cardiovascular disease (CVD) was found. The strongest correlation was the combination of DHA and oleic acid. RBC docosahexaenoic acid itself also correlated negatively and significantly with most chronic diseases and appeared to be more protective than either eicosapentaenoic or the omega3 docosapenataenoic acids. These results demonstrate the protective nature of fish consumption and DHA, found in high fat Western diets, operates at a low level of fat. This finding suggests the protective effect of fish consumption as validated by red cell DHA is universal. The protective effect is, therefore, most likely to be due to the fundamental properties of docosahexaenoic acid in cell function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Fats
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood*
  • Fishes*
  • Humans


  • Dietary Fats
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids