Association between blood N-3 fatty acid levels and the risk of coronavirus disease 2019 in the UK Biobank

Am J Clin Nutr. 2023 Feb;117(2):357-363. doi: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2022.11.011.


Background: The role of nutritional status and the risk of contracting and/or experiencing adverse outcomes from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection are unclear. Preliminary studies suggest that higher n-3 PUFA intakes are protective.

Objectives: This study aimed to compare the risk of 3 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outcomes (testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, hospitalization, and death) as a function of the baseline plasma DHA levels.

Methods: The DHA levels (% of total fatty acids [FAs]) were measured by nuclear magnetic resonance. The 3 outcomes and relevant covariates were available for 110,584 subjects (hospitalization and death) and for 26,595 ever-tested subjects (positive for SARS-CoV-2) in the UK Biobank prospective cohort study. Outcome data between 1 January, 2020, and 23 March, 2021, were included. The Omega-3 Index (O3I) (RBC EPA + DHA%) values across DHA% quintiles were estimated. The multivariable Cox proportional hazards models were constructed, and linear (per 1 SD) relations with the risk of each outcome were computed as HRs.

Results: In the fully adjusted models, comparing the fifth to the first DHA% quintiles, the HRs (95% confidence intervals) for testing positive, being hospitalized, and dying with COVID-19 were 0.79 (0.71, 0.89, P < 0.001), 0.74 (0.58, 0.94, P < 0.05), and 1.04 (0.69-1.57, not significant), respectively. On a per 1-SD increase in DHA% basis, the HRs for testing positive, hospitalization, and death, were 0.92 (0.89, 0.96, P < 0.001), 0.89 (0.83, 0.97, P < 0.01), and 0.95 (0.83, 1.09), respectively. The estimated O3I values across DHA quintiles ranged from 3.5% (quintile 1) to 8% (quintile 5).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that nutritional strategies to increase the circulating n-3 PUFA levels, such as increased consumption of oily fish and/or use of n-3 FA supplements, may reduce the risk of adverse COVID-19 outcomes.

Keywords: COVID-19; DHA; EPA; Omega-3 Index; SARS-CoV-2; biomarker; epidemiology; fish oil; observational.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Specimen Banks
  • COVID-19*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3