High Use of Omega-3 Supplements Among Older Adults

October 2, 2017


Dietary Supplement Use was Very High among Older Adults in the United States in 2011-2014
Gahche, J. J. et al., J. Nutrition, 147: 1968-1976, 2017


Increasing concerns about health/disease challenges and potential ‘under-nutrition’ as the population ages has led to a surge in interest in the use of dietary supplements. The present survey was therefore conducted on 3468 older adults (60 years of age or older) to estimate the types and frequency of supplement use. The use of dietary supplements was determined via an interviewer-administered questionnaire in the participants’ homes. The NHANES is a nationally representative sample of the US civilian, non-institutionalized population as conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It was determined that 70 % of older US adults used one or more dietary supplements in the previous month with a higher use among women (at 76 %) as compared to men (at 62 %). A somewhat greater use was employed by those over the age of 70 years. The use of omega-3 supplementation was selected by 22 % of those surveyed (20 % of men and 23 % of women). Those who reported vigorous/moderate physical activity or good-excellent health were more frequent users of omega-3 supplementation. Other frequently-reported products were multivitamin or mineral supplements (at 39 %) and vitamin D (at 26 %) with 41 % reporting supplement use to ‘improve overall health’.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

The overall evidence-based literature indicates that the preponderance of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in the body are mediated by the presence of the ‘long-chain’ omega-3 fatty acids as EPA plus DHA. Since the metabolic conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (the ‘short-chain’ omega-3) to EPA/DHA is very limited, direct consumption of EPA/DHA is by far the most efficient for enriching human tissues and cells in EPA/DHA. However, the present paper on omega-3 supplement use did not differentiate between omega-3 intakes as ‘short-chain’ from plant sources (flaxseed oil, other) versus ‘long-chain’ from fish oil and algal sources. Based on the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) supported by the National Institutes for Health in the US in 2012, it was reported that 7.8 % of US adults has used supplementation containing EPA/DHA from fish oil.

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