Omega-3 is the new cholesterol: why you should be getting it checked

If you're not eating oily fish three times per week, beware.

If you’re not eating oily fish two to three times per week, pay attention. It’d be a good idea to get your omega-3 levels checked.
We all know the omega-3s found in seafood can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive disease and developmental disorders. But recent research reveals we’re not eating enough. And with heart disease being the leading cause of death in the world, it’s no wonder people are concerned.
The 2016 Global Survey found that most western countries record an omega-3 blood index of less than four per cent, much lower than the proposed healthy range: 8 – 12%. With these findings, omega-3 has been touted as the new cholesterol; we should all be getting it checked. In fact, many are. With the new Omega-3 Index Test, people have taken it upon themselves to start monitoring their levels at home. And why wouldn’t you when it’s as easy as a prick of the finger?
Since 75% of the Australian population don’t even know what omega-3s are¹, we spoke to Dr. William S. Harris, CEO of OmegaQuant Analytics, LLC, and world-renowned expert on omega-3 fatty acids to find out more.

What are omega-3s?

omega-3 foods, omega-3 sources, salmon, fatty fish, healthy fats
Via iStock

Omega-3s are a kind of healthy fat, which the body needs to function efficiently, but which it can’t produce itself. When you think of omega-3s, it’s salmon, avocado and nuts that often spring to mind. But did you know, not all omega-3 is equal? In fact, there are different types of omega-3s and some are more beneficial than others.

“There are two general kinds of omega-3: one type from plants (known as ALA) which is kind of a short, smaller cousin to the other two types of omega-3s that are found in fish oils (known as EPA and DHA).”

When it comes to health (and beauty) benefits, it’s the animal-based fatty acids we are interested in.

“Higher levels of EPA and DHA in the diet, blood and tissues have been shown to reduce your risk for heart disease, and for some neurocognitive and psychiatric diseases like depression. It may even slow the development of dementia. The plant omega-3 on the other hand may be helpful for heart disease but there is not a great deal of evidence to confirm its benefits,” says Dr. Harris.

And how do they work?

fish oil, krill oil, omega-3
via iStock

Every cell in the body has a membrane, and the flexibility, fluidity and pliability of that membrane is part of the health of the cell. Omega-3s help the cell membrane to remain fluid and flexible. Dr. Harris describes it like oil in a car.

“If you have enough oil in your car, all the parts move smoothly; they don’t rub together or generate heat – which, in the body would be inflammation. A high level of omega-3 is like having enough oil in your car. Everything runs smoother, better and doesn’t wear out as fast.”

To find out the effects of chronic inflammation on the body, read here.

So how much do we need?

sushi, sashimi, japanese, omega-3

The Omega-3 Index measures the level of omega-3 in red blood cell membranes. A healthy level is about 8 – 12%, however, Dr. Harris says that while a higher level may not provide more health benefits, there has been no evidence to suggest it poses any risk.
In fact, the Japanese, who have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, record levels around 10%.

“They eat so much fish from conception onwards,” says Dr. Harris, “and [consequently], they have very little heart disease and live for years longer than Americans do. They are a healthier population in general and part of this is due to their omega-3s.”

And what is the best source?

salmon, omega-3
via iStock

Fish is the only edible source of EPA and DHA for humans. The bests foods include salmon, albacore tuna (regular tuna is also also ok), barramundi, sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and even oysters. Typically dry, white fish do not contain much omega-3.

Try this Salmon BakeSalmon SaladSalmon Patties and Salmon Skewers.

Dr. Harris recommends eating oily fish two to three times per week. And while fish is preferable, if you don’t eat seafood, he says supplementing with fish or krill oil is also available. One should aim for 500 to 1000mg of EPA/DHA per day.

But how can we measure it?

finger prick test, blood test, testing blood sugar, omega-3
via iStock

Just like cholesterol, there are no real signs or symptoms to suggest a deficiency in omega-3, which is why it’s so important to measure it. With the new Omega-3 Index Test you can do this quickly and easily from home. All you have to do is order the kit, prick your finger and send off the results.

“If you make a change in your omega – it takes about four months to reach a new steady state because that’s about the time it takes for red blood cells to replace themselves,” says Dr. Harris.

He recommends re-testing every four to six months.

“There are risk factors for heart disease like cholesterol that you have to use drugs to treat, and others like age and sex you can’t do anything about. This is a risk factor you can do something about safely, cheaply, and quickly through diet and supplements alone,” says Dr. Harris.

If you’d like to get on top of your omega-3 levels, click here for more information.

¹Pure Profile Heart Health survey data, completed from August 15-16, 2016, N-1005

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