EPA plus DHA Intakes Found to be Very Low in US Population

October 9, 2017


Total Long-Chain n-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Food Sources in the United States Compared to Recommended Intakes: NHANES 2003-2008
Richter, C. K. et al., Lipids, in press, 2017


The American Heart Association has recommended the consumption of fish at least twice per week which would provide approx. 500 mg EPA plus DHA per day on average for cardiovascular disease risk reduction. Data from NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) 2003-2008 was used to assess total long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intakes from food sources and supplements in the US population. The total intake data was defined as the ingested EPA plus DHA plus ‘EPA equivalents’ (determined from the intake of the short-chain omega-3 fatty acids and their estimated/limited conversion efficiency to EPA). The reported intake of foods from 24-hour recalls and nutrient values from the USDA database was used to determine omega-3 fatty acid intakes.

Since only 6.2 % of the population were taking omega-3 supplements, the preponderance of the ingested long-chain omega-3 fatty acids was from food sources with fish accounting for 71 % of the dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake. The overall 2-day average results from 24,621 individuals as surveyed indicated an average intake of 170 mg/person/day from foods and 220 mg/person/day from foods plus supplements. The highest average intake from foods was found in men aged 20 years and over (at 230 mg/person/day) with seniors (both genders ages 55 and over) having the highest average intakes from foods plus supplements (at 290 mg/person/day). Even after accounting for some limited conversion of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids (as alpha-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid) to ‘EPA equivalents’, more than 90% of individuals consumed less than the recommended 500 mg EPA plus DHA daily from food sources.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

While all sub-groups studied exhibited very low intakes of EPA plus DHA, this pattern was particularly evident also in vulnerable sectors (eg.,young children averaging 80-120 mg /person/day and pregnant/lactating women averaging only 170 mg/person/day from food sources. Our lab previously reported on omega-3 fatty acid intakes in pregnant Canadian women via direct quantitative assessment rather than indirect/recall approaches (J. Nutrition,135: 206-21 (2005)). Assuming a 5 % conversion of short-chain omega-3 fatty acid to EPA as done in the present study, our estimated daily intakes amount to 117 mg EPA plus DHA per person plus 65 mg of ‘EPA equivalents’ for a summed total of 182 mg/person/day which is very close to the reported 170 mg/person/day. While the present study did not report on EPA and DHA from food sources separately, our earlier assessment indicated that average intakes of these were 35 and 82 mg per person daily, respectively. It is apparent that public educational strategies are needed across all population sectors to increase long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intakes so as to meet or surpass targets for health and disease prevention.

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