expert opinion

Medical Professional to Medical Professional – Get Your Omega-3 Levels Tested

April 5, 2017

Michael F. Roizen, MD

I write this article from a medical caregiver to fellow medical caregiver. Although I run ideas like this by my colleagues in the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, I know we are parochial in our thought processes and need the wider vetting you afford.

I want to share an omega-3 test I recently had the chance to experience.  This comes on the heels of a new study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

A recent meta-analysis published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that an increased amount of EPA and DHA from diet and/or from supplements decreased cardiovascular events by about 18 percent (5, 6).  Even more impressive is when you look at the data based on the level of omega-3s in red blood cell membrane (RBC membrane), called an omega-3 index.  An index above 8 percent was associated with greater than a 75 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk compared to an index of less than 4 percent (a higher index means more omega-3s in your red cells—see figure1).

Even better, like your patients’ blood pressures or blood sugars, you can now easily measure your patients’ omega-3 index reliably (11). 

It comes as no surprise, that a decade worth of research has shown that omega-3s and specifically, DHA, support brain health. In fact, one study showed that DHA at 900mg a day supports memory (2).

So, to help support the health of your brain and heart, I suggest taking the Omega-3 Index text and educating your patients about the Index.

Omega-3 Index Test Kit

I was given an Omega-3 Index test kit (produced by OmegaQuant) because I am a member of the NUTRI-FACTS editorial board, which I’m a paid member. We know EPA and DHA omega-3s have been shown to support healthy triglyceride (TG) levels, so those patients who have high TG levels with a high risk of CV events might get the therapeutic level of 2 to 4 grams per day, at least until their TG levels fall to an acceptable level, and their omega-3 index rise to an acceptable level. The full algorithm is at the website http://knowyouro.com, under the “Get Resources” tab.

I decided it was important to measure my omega-3 index even though I eat two to three servings of salmon a week and take 600 mg of DHA omega-3 supplements a day. You and your patients will be able to receive their results in a few days by mail. The test is easy and involves a simple pinprick of your finger with a drop of blood placed on a special piece of blotter paper that is then submitted by mail.

Despite my habit of eating salmon twice a week and the supplementing responsibly, my level was just short of optimal at 7.98 percent. But I always strive to achieve the optimal level – a level a percent or two above 8 percent. I plan to increase my omega-3 supplement intake a little to 800 mg a day, and do another measurement in three to four months. 

Please write to me (youdocs@gmail.com) to share your feedback – I’m curious to learn where your body lands on the omega-3 index.  

Key takeaways:

1.    Omega-3s are a healthy choice to reduce CV disease in analyses of all studies of omega-3’s just published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings and in my opinion;

2.    To make sure you get an appropriate amount in your diet and/or from supplement, get the simple the Omega-3 Index test kit. 

3.    Learn more by accessing the resource guide “Doctor Decision Tree” at www.KnowYourO.com as a starting point for omega-3 intake recommendations for your patients, at least until you measure their Omega-3 Index and TGs.  I aim for more than 8 percent and less than 100 – just as I suggest to my patients.

Thanks for reading. 

References

  1. Hobbs WR, Fowler J. Prediction of mortality using on-line self-reported health data: empirical test of the real age score. PLoS One. 2014; 9(1):e86385. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086385.
  2. Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, RomD , et al, on behalf of the MIDAS Investigator.  Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline.    Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association 2010; 6: 456–464.
  3. Jobe JB, Smith DM, Ball K, et al.  ACTIVE: A cognitive intervention trial to promote independence in older adults. Control Clin Trials. 2001; 22: 453-79.1
  4. 4134. Lin F, Heffner KL, Ren P, et al.  Cognitive and Neural Effects of Vision-Based Speed-of-Processing Training in Older Adults with Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Pilot Study. J Am Geriatr Soc 2016; 64:1293–1298.
  5. Alexander, D., Miller, P., Van Elswyk, M., Kuratko, C., and Bylsma, L. A meta-analysis of randomized trials and prospective cohort studies of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic long chain omega-3 fatty acids and coronary heart disease risk. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017; 92: 15–29
  6. O’Keefe JH, Jacob D , Lavie CJ. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Therapy: The Tide Turns for a Fish Story Mayo Clin Proc.  2017;92:1-3
  7. Harris W.S. The omega-3 index as a risk factor for coronary heart disease
  8. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87: 1997S–2002S
  9. Albert C.M., Campos, H., Stampfer, M.J. et al. Blood levels of long-chain n-3 fatty acids and the risk of sudden death. N Engl J Med. 2002; 346: 1113–1118
  10. Siskovick D.S., Raghunathan, T.E., King, I. et al. Dietary intake and cell membrane levels of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. JAMA. 1995; 274: 1363–1367 
  11. Harris WS, Polreis J. Measurement of the Omega-3 Index in Dried Blood Spots. Ann Clin Lab Res. 2016, 4: 4