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 (254 mg 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.
Keywords: Ageing; Biomarkers; Omega-3 fatty acids; Omega-3 index; Vegan; Vegetarian.
Copyright © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.