Omega-3 Deficiency Study

Omega-3 Index in Division I Collegiate American Football Athletes
Published May 30, 2018

Andrew T. Askow1, Anthony J. Anzalone1, Jason D. Stone1, Will Jennings1, Aaron Carbuhn2, Ryan Pinson3, Amy Bragg4, K. Michele Kirk1, David A. Gable1, Stephen F. Crouse5, FACSM, William S. Harris6, Jonathan M. Oliver1

1Texas Christian University, Fort Worth; TX, 2University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 3University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY; 4University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL; 5Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; 6OmegaQuant, LLC and University of South Dakota, Sioux Falls, SD

American football athletes are exposed to repetitive head impacts (RHI) that, even in the absence of a clinically discernible head injury, result in quantifiable neurological damage. Pre-clinical studies utilizing rodent models indicate that traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can cause a reduction in neuronal omega-3 fatty acids (n-3FAs), specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pre-injury administration of n-3FAs, however, has shown to effectively allay the pathological response to TBI. Furthermore, one study has demonstrated the potential neuroprotective effect of DHA supplementation in American football athletes evidenced by a marked reduction in blood biomarkers of axonal injury. Given that the American diet is scarce in the n-3FAs DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the potential neuroprotective effect of n-3FA supplementation may uniquely benefit American football athletes.

PURPOSE: This descriptive study sought to examine the omega-3 index, an indicator of n-3FA status, in American collegiate football athletes not supplementing with n-3FAs.

METHODS: One hundred twelve (n = 112) athletes participated in this study. Blood was obtained via finger stick and collected on blood spot cards pre-treated with an antioxidant cocktail. The dried blood samples were analyzed by gas chromatography for fatty acid (FA) levels (expressed as a % of total blood FAs). A regression formula (r = 0.98) was used to estimate the percentage of DHA and EPA in red blood cell phospholipids (omega-3 index).

RESULTS: Levels of DHA, EPA, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) were (mean ± SD) 2.27% ± 0.01% (range = 1.1% - 5.2%), 0.39% ± 0.00% (range = 0.2% - 1.2%) and 0.39% ± 0.00% (range = 0.1% - 1.0%), respectively. Mean omega-6 levels were 9.55 ± 1.72 (range = 4.5 – 13.9) times higher than n-3FAs levels. The mean omega-3 index was 4.35% ± 0.01% (range = 2.8% - 8.0%). Sub-optimal n-3FA levels (i.e., an index < 8.0%) were observed in 99.12% of participants.

CONCLUSION: These data suggest that dietary intake of the n-3FAs DHA and EPA may not be adequate in American collegiate football athletes. Though the current evidence relates n-3FA deficiency to an increased risk for cardiovascular risk, American football athletes may derive neuroprotective benefit from n-3FA supplementation with little to no risk.

To view the poster accepted by the American College of Sports Medicine please click here:


Jonathan M. Oliver
Assistant Professor and Director, Sport Science Center Kinesiology
Texas Christian University
Ph.D., Kinesiology, Texas A&M University; College Station, TX
M.Ed., Kinesiology, University of Texas at Austin; Austin, TX
BBA, Decision Sciences, University of North Texas; Denton, TX

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