Using an erythrocyte fatty acid fingerprint to predict risk of all-cause mortality: the Framingham Offspring Cohort

Using an erythrocyte fatty acid fingerprint to predict risk of all-cause mortality: the Framingham Offspring Cohort

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2021

Michael I McBurney et al.



RBC long-chain omega-3 (n–3) fatty acid (FA) percentages (of total fatty acids) are associated with lower risk for total mortality, but it is unknown if a suite of FAs could improve risk prediction.


Framingham Offspring Cohort participants without prevalent CVD having RBC FA measurements and relevant baseline clinical covariates (n = 2240) were evaluated during 11 y of follow-up. A forward, stepwise approach was used to systematically evaluate the association of 8 standard risk factors (age, sex, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, hypertension treatment, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, and prevalent diabetes) and 28 FA metrics with all-cause mortality. A 10-fold cross-validation process was used to build and validate models adjusted for age and sex.


Four of 28 FA metrics appeared in ≥5 of the discovery models as significant predictors of all-cause mortality. In age- and sex-adjusted models, a model with 4 FA metrics was at least as good at predicting all-cause mortality as a model including the remaining 6 standard risk factors (C-statistic: 0.778; 95% CI: 0.759, 0.797; compared with C-statistic: 0.777; 95% CI: 0.753, 0.802). A model with 4 FA metrics plus smoking and diabetes (FA + Sm + D) had a higher C-statistic (0.790; 95% CI: 0.770, 0.811) compared with the FA (P < 0.01) or Sm + D models alone (C-statistic: 0.766; 95% CI: 0.739, 0.794; P < 0.001). A variety of other highly correlated FAs could be substituted for 14:0, 16:1n–7, 22:0, or O3I with similar predicted outcomes.


In this community-based population in their mid-60s, RBC FA patterns were as predictive of risk for death during the next 11 y as standard risk factors. Replication is needed in other cohorts to validate this FA fingerprint as a predictor of all-cause mortality.

Read the full article here


Omega-3 index is a measurement of EPA and DHA fat found in the membranes of red blood cells. A higher index has been previously linked to positive health outcomes. In this study, the omega-3 index as well as other measurements of fatty acid stores were found to predict mortality. The researchers suggest that in the future, looking at cellular fat indexes may prove to be an effective tool for predicting risk for early death and recommend further investigations on this subject.

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