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Are Omega-3 Levels Just as Important as Cholesterol Levels?

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Healthy fat is one of our favorite topics at Nutritious Life, so we were pretty surprised to find out that there’s a blood test for omega-3 levels that we’d never heard of.

RELATED: Why Healthy Fats Don’t Make You Fat

“You can’t feel low omega-3s, you need a blood test,” explained Dr. Bill Harris, the president and CEO of OmegaQuant and the creator of the omega-3 index, when he stopped by our office (wearing an awesome fish tie, by the way).

Dr. Harris gently pricked our fingers and squeezed a tiny drop of blood onto a special paper card, but most people do the whole thing by themselves at home after ordering the test (which costs $55) online.

Our results came in two weeks later, and between reading through them and talking to Dr. Harris, a leading researcher in the field, we learned a few things.

Are omega-3 levels as important of a marker as cholesterol levels when it comes to preventing disease and living a long, healthy life? Here’s what we found out.

3 Things You Should Know About Omega-3 Levels

 

  • 1. Testing your blood for healthy fats is totally legit.

    The test was actually developed about 15 years ago and has been available to the public for almost a decade, according to Dr. Harris. And according to research, it’s a “validated biomarker of omega-3 fatty acid tissue levels.” What the test does is looks at the membranes of your red blood cells, which is where fatty acids hang out, and reports what percentage of those fatty acids are EPA and DHA, the omega-3s that are most important for good health. Around eight percent is the target percentage.

  • 2. Your omega-3 levels might be lower than you think.

    Our team members are super nutrition savvy and we all have close relationships with salmon, but apparently not close enough. Like the vast majority of Americans, our numbers were low—between 4.3 and 4.6 percent. (Of course, Keri didn’t get tested yet, so we’re going to assume her numbers are perfect.) One reason may be that we focus a lot on sources of omega-3s that deliver ALA (like avocado, nuts, and olive oil) instead of EPA and DHA (fish). While the body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, it’s not very efficient at doing so.

    So what to do? After you get your results, you can put your number into OmegaQuant’s calculator along with a goal percentage and it’ll tell you exactly how much EPA and DHA you should be getting daily (either via fish or supplements) to get your number up to where you want it.

    RELATED: 5 Simple Salmon Recipes You’ll Use Over and Over Again

  • 3. The link between omega-3 levels and better health is even stronger than we realized.

    But isn’t this all pretty nit-picky? Well, sort of, but in taking a look at some of the research, we were surprised by how strong the science is linking a higher omega-3 index to better health. There are thousands of studies to sift through, and the strongest evidence links higher omega-3 levels with significantly lower risk of heart disease and improved cognitive function (which are two seriously important health outcomes).

    One recent large study with 2500 participants found higher omega-3 levels were associated with a significantly reduced risk of heart disease and “all-cause mortality.” AKA people with higher levels lived longer. That’s a pretty impressive result, right?

    (Photos: Shutterstock)

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