Research & Your Health is a series of articles written in accessible, everyday language, focused on the latest scientific research of natural health products.
On July 28, 2016
Background: Homocysteine is an amino acid found in the blood that is acquired primarily from eating meat. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with an increase in various diseases, including vascular and neurological disease and lower bone mineral density in women. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce homocysteine levels but results in humans are inconsistent. This is because many omega-3 trials include folic acid (a type of B vitamin), a compound that has been shown to reduce homocysteine levels. Folic acid supplement may offer little benefit to cardiovascular disease risk. If omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were used to reduce homocysteine levels, then disease risk may improve. This study investigated all randomized control trials that have studied the relationship between omega-3 or folic acid supplementation and homocysteine levels.
Objective: One purpose of this study was to determine if omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce homocysteine levels. Another purpose was to determine if omega-3 plus folic acid supplementation may reduce homocysteine levels compared to omega-3 supplementation alone.
Methods: A total of 19 randomized control trials fit the researcher’s criteria. Studies that investigated the effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on homocysteine levels were compared to studies that investigated the effects of omega-3 plus folic acid and B-vitamins together.
Results: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation alone, omega-3 with folic acid and B-vitamins, and all trials combined, all reduced homocysteine levels. Omega-3 with folic acid and B-vitamin supplementation reduced homocysteine levels to a greater extent than omega-3 supplementation alone.
Conclusion: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation is effective in reducing homocysteine levels and the addition of folic acid and B-vitamin supplements reduced levels to a greater extent.
Findings and Perspectives: Since high homocysteine levels are associated with increased risk of various diseases, the finding that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids supplementation alone was found to lower homocysteine levels provides motivation for future studies to investigate whether this supplement improves disease risk.
Dawson, S.K., Bowe, S.J., Crowe, T.C.Nutrition Research (2016), 36, 499-508.