Omega-3 Index Test: An Essential Biomarker For Heart Health & More

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Maintaining one’s health is getting easier, with personalised nutrition and home test kits becoming more popular. One can even ensure heart health by measuring omega-3 levels. By Angela Lee, director of marketing, Aker Biomarine Antarctic AS

Everyone can benefit from good heart health habits. In fact, a good heart routine is vital to prevent issues in the future. Fortunately, there are options for those looking to be proactive regarding this, and caring for the heart can and should start at an early age.

While good eating habits and exercise are key, supplementation is essential and luckily, the market for heart health supplements is thriving. In fact, according to Innova Market Insights, the number of supplements with heart health positioning grew 71 percent from 2011 to 2015 and future predictions point to heart health as a key trend to watch in years to come.

According to NBJ data, heart health ingredients have the potential to reach more than US$3 billion by 2020. And with that in mind, there are many options for consumers seeking out heart health products. Industry experts agree that omega-3s are considered a strong contender in this market and krill is becoming a highly sought after option.

Krill, A Suitable Solution For Heart Health

It is no doubt that everyone, at any age, needs omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids (specifically long-chain omega-3s EPA and DHA) are essential for our overall health and play an important role in many processes in our bodies. In fact, research has shown that long-chain omega-3s support blood pressure, cholesterol levels and normal blood clotting processes, as well as a regular heartbeat, all of which contribute to keeping both the heart and its arteries healthy.

And while omega-3s are essential for heart health, they are also important for supporting brain health, joint health and much more. Inflammation is a known risk factor for heart disease and the anti-inflammatory nutrients found in omega-3s can help balance the body’s level of inflammation, promoting overall health and wellness. To that end, this balance also helps promote a healthy heart.

Even though omega-3s are one of the most researched nutrients in the world, supported with a multitude of health benefits, it still stands that we cannot make sufficient amounts of these fatty acids on our own. There are several ways to increase omega-3 levels in the body. The best way to increase your omega-3 levels is to consume ‘oily’ fish (i.e., salmon, herring, albacore tuna and sardines) or take omega-3 supplements such as krill, fish or algal oil.

It’s important to remember, however, that not all omega-3s are created equal. They vary in structure and function, and only marine-based omega-3s (or long-chain omega-3s) contain EPA and DHA, the nutrients best known for raising omega-3 levels in the body.

Krill oil, an increasingly popular omega-3 option, provides EPA and DHA mainly in the form of phospholipids, which are structurally different than omega-3 triglycerides found in fish and algal oils. Krill’s omega-3s are carried directly into the blood via the phospholipids, thereby raising one’s omega-3 index more efficiently as compared to other omega-3 oils that are delivered as triglycerides and follow different paths in the body.

In addition to omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, krill contains the essential nutrient choline, which is crucial for cell structure, function, and signalling. Choline is found to positively contribute to cardiovascular, liver and cognitive health. Furthermore, the astaxanthin found in krill oil helps keep its omega- 3s naturally fresh and stable.

Pushing The Heart Health Market Forward

Innovation in the heart health category will definitely help drive new delivery formats, combination products and much more. Consumers will continue to seek out new options in omega-3s and supplements in general, and the industry will have to respond. And while this is imperative for the wave of the future, education combined with the right tools, will be just as important.

Personalised nutrition, defined as tweaking the diet to meet a person’s nutritional needs, is becoming a recurring theme and industry experts agree that this trend is essentially where the health and wellness field is headed. The ‘one size fits all’ approach to nutrition is a thing of the past, and to that end, we will continue to see a significant paradigm shift in the years to come.

This change will steer the industry into a new era that favours individuals and their preferences over the masses. Most importantly, it will help consumers identify where they stand from a health and wellness standpoint and will help them address which nutrition gaps they need to fill.

One of the ways to do this properly is with self-administered testing. While home testing is not completely new, the demand for self-administered tests to help identify various conditions and deficiencies in the nutrition space is on the rise.

For example, due to the evidence surrounding the many benefits and the widespread deficiency of vitamin D, self-administered vitamin D testing is becoming more popular. Omega-3 testing is also becoming more prevalent among consumers, and like vitamin D, omega-3s offer a myriad of health benefits for a whole host of conditions, especially heart health.

Your Heart Can’t Feel Your Omega-3s, But You Can Measure Them!

The lack of instant gratification or outward result from taking omega-3s makes it difficult for some consumers to understand how important they really are. So how can we be sure we’re getting enough omega-3s? Like other risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol or even high blood pressure, you can’t ‘feel’ a low omega-3 level.

The only way to know it is to measure it, and you can do that with the omega-3 index test, a nutritional tool that measures the percentage of EPA and DHA in red blood cells, specifically in the membrane of the cell. This can all be done with a single blood drop.

Dr William Harris, president of OmegaQuant Analytics and co-inventor of the omega-3 index test asserts that the test will help drive the future of the health and wellness industry. “Like other home test kits, the omega-3 index test can help change the way people address food and nutrition,” said Dr Harris. “I like to think of this ‘new cholesterol test’ as the number you want to brag about.”

What exactly is this number? A result of 8-12 percent is associated with better, overall health, and a lower risk for premature death. Anything less than eight percent puts us in the least desirable risk zones. And similar to cholesterol, the omega-3 index is a risk factor for heart disease, but it also addresses issues beyond heart health. In fact, several published studies have made strong correlations between the index and brain health, as well as total mortality.

The Correlation Between Omega-3 Levels And Heart Disease

There is definitely a major correlation between omega-3 levels and chronic disease, and unfortunately omega-3 deficiency is a global issue, putting many at a higher risk of health issues.

Most people globally have low levels of EPA and DHA in their blood. In fact, a recent study revealed the breakdown of omega-3 levels regionally. This study, published in Progress in Lipid Research, showed that populations in North America, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa have a low or very low omega-3 index (six percent or below).

Only two regions (Norway & Japan) of those surveyed had optimal levels (eight percent) of these nutrients in their blood. The low levels correlate to major health risks including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, eye disease, and much more.

Public awareness of omega-3 deficiency is growing thanks to promoting campaigns like The Omega-3 Index Project, but greater education is crucial. According to a new study conducted by the Global Nutrition and Health Alliance and published in Nutrients, adults in Western countries still fall far below optimal blood levels of omega-3.

The study also reveals that most people think they get omega-3s from a balanced diet, yet 98 percent have suboptimal omega-3 levels. Additionally, 82 percent of people believe they don’t need to take a supplement to have a balanced diet.

Heart Healthy Habits Can Start At Home

Omega-3 levels are not measured as part of regular bloodwork carried out during annual well doctor visits, and unfortunately we are likely years away from it being a part of routine clinical care. That said, home testing is a must as healthcare is taken into consumers’ hands more than ever before.

Once consumers measure and know their levels (i.e. omega-3 index) they are motivated to act by seeking out options in the marketplace that will help them raise their omega-3 index. And since each person’s needs are different, they can use the omega-3 index test to help customise an omega-3 regimen to fit their particular lifestyle.

The amount of EPA and DHA one would need to take in order to raise their omega-3 index into the target range will vary. Various factors including age, sex, weight, diet, genetics, smoking, medications and more, can influence the body’s response to additional EPA and DHA.

As mentioned earlier, the best way to increase this index is to consume more omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish or to take a dietary supplement such as krill oil. Positive change starts with a proactive choice and testing your levels is the best place to start!