Omega-3 fatty acid intake and prevalent respiratory symptoms among U.S. adults with COPD

BMC Pulm Med. 2019 May 21;19(1):97. doi: 10.1186/s12890-019-0852-4.


Background: Omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and derivatives, play a key role in the resolution of inflammation. Higher intake has been linked to decreased morbidity in several diseases, though effects on respiratory diseases like COPD are understudied.

Methods: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), with a focus on dietary assessment, provides a unique opportunity to explore relationships between omega-3 intake and morbidity in respiratory diseases marked by inflammation in the United States (US) population. We investigated relationships between ALA or EPA + DHA intake and respiratory symptoms among US adults with COPD, as well as variation in relationships based on personal characteristics or exposures.

Results: Of 878 participants, mean age was 60.6 years, 48% were current smokers, and 68% completed high school. Omega-3 intake was, 1.71 ± 0.89 g (ALA), and 0.11 ± 0.21 g (EPA + DHA). Logistic regression models, adjusting for age, gender, race, body mass index, FEV1, education, smoking status, pack-years, total caloric intake, and omega-6 (linoleic acid, LA) intake demonstrated no primary associations between omega-3 intake and respiratory symptoms. Interaction terms were used to determine potential modification of relationships by personal characteristics (race, gender, education) or exposures (LA intake, smoking status), demonstrating that at lower levels of LA intake, increasing ALA intake was associated with reduced odds of chronic cough (pint = 0.015) and wheeze (pint = 0.037). EPA + DHA, but not ALA, was associated with reduced symptoms only among current smokers who did not complete high school.

Conclusions: Individual factors should be taken into consideration when studying the association of fatty acid intake on respiratory diseases, as differential responses may reveal susceptible subgroups.

Keywords: COPD; Education; Fatty acid; Omega; Smoking.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cough / drug therapy*
  • Cough / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Respiratory Sounds / drug effects*
  • United States
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / administration & dosage


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • eicosapentaenoic acid ethyl ester
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid