Are You Getting Enough Omega-3s? Take a blood test and see…

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids in the human diet that are primarily found in oily fish like salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, etc. They are also available in fish oil soft gels. The principle omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  Over the last 25 years, compelling evidence has accumulated from epidemiological studies and large clinical trials demonstrating their beneficial impact on joint, brain, eye, and heart function.  With regard to the cardioprotective effects of omega-3 oils, the strongest evidence to date relates to reducing risk for sudden cardiac death, the primary cause of coronary heart disease (CHD) death in the US today.

The American Heart Association reports that CHD is the number one killer of American men and women, accounting for more than one of every five deaths in the United States, usually as sudden death from cardiac arrest.  Recognizing the cardioprotective effects of omega-3s, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that patients with documented CHD should consume about 1,000 mg of omega-3s (specifically, combined DHA+EPA) per day; those without documented CHD should eat a variety of fish, preferably oily, at least twice a week, to provide about 500 mg of EPA+DHA per day.  It is very difficult, however, to reliably estimate omega-3 consumption based upon fatty fish intake because DHA and EPA vary greatly with species, season, maturity, fish’s diet, post-catch processing, and cooking methods.  A high-quality, highly purified fish oil supplement can deliver a more precise amount of omega-3s.  Even then, individual differences in absorption, metabolism, and distribution can lead to variable responses to a given intake.

So how do you know if you are getting enough omega-3s?

Now there is a blood test —the HS-Omega-3 Index™— that can measure your levels of the cardioprotective omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Researchers have discovered that one of the best risk indicators for sudden cardiac death is the level of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in red blood cell membranes. The HS-Omega-3 Index test measures levels of DHA + EPA in the phospholipids of red blood cell membranes and is expressed as a percent of total fatty acids in the membrane.  The result is a simple modifiable marker for the risk of death from coronary heart disease.

The target HS-Omega-3 Index is 8% and above, a level that current research indicates is associated with the lowest risk for death from CHD. On the other hand, an Index of 4% or less (which is common in the US) indicates the highest risk.  Low levels are easily corrected through dietary changes or supplements and can quickly improve test results. Of course, this is just one of a number of risk factors that plays a role in CHD.  Risks associated with other factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, family history of CHD, smoking, or other cardiac conditions are completely independent of and not influenced by omega-3 fatty acids. Any and all modifiable risk factors – including the HS-Omega-3 Index—should be addressed as part of any global risk reduction strategy.

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