How to Test for Omega 3 Deficiency — Is omega 3 the Same as Fish Oil?
Vitamin D supplements and testing have already become a routine. The Omega-3s are nutrients you get from your food (or your supplements) that help build and maintain a healthy body. But if you ask yourself—How to test Omega 3 deficiency? or Why Omega-3? Or even— Is omega 3 the same as fish oil? this post will discuss the most recent finding about Omega-3 benefits and how to test it at home. The benefits of Omega-3 for heart diseases were discussed lengthily in numerous publications. Several recent studies showed its benefits in protecting against autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammation, and maintaining red blood cells (RBC) structural and functional integrity. With this increased importance, several labs are offering online lab tests to measure the level of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in your blood.
Big numbers in recent studies
Three studies with a large data set were published in the last several months, each with several tens of thousands of people or lab samples. Large data set studies enable the identification of associations between different health parameters.
In the first study, 25,871 participants followed people who were taking Vitamin D and Omega-3 supplements for a period of 5 years. The study included people who were taking placebo (inactive substance that is used as control) supplements. This study demonstrated that Vitamin D supplementation for five years, with or without omega 3 fatty acids, reduced autoimmune disease by 22%, while omega 3 fatty acid supplementation with or without vitamin D reduced the autoimmune disease rate by 15%1. The daily supplements levels in this study were: Vitamin D (2000 IU/day) and omega 3 fatty acids (1000 mg/day).
The second and third publications are based on data from a >45,000 individuals’ clinical lab database. One analyzed 28,871 blood samples from healthy adults collected about 10 years ago. This study revealed that a higher Omega-3 Index is associated with lower markers for chronic inflammation2. The other analyzed 25,485 records that had the full data on body mass index (BMI), age and sex, inflammation marker (hsCRP), and Red Blood Cells. This study found that the omega-3 index (O3I) and elevated RBC distribution width (RDW) are risk factors for all-cause mortality (death rate that their causes happened for various reasons). These results suggested that in healthy adults of both sexes, an O3I of > 5.6% may help maintain normal RBC structural and functional integrity3.
The Omega Fatty Acids
So, is omega 3 the Same as Fish Oil? Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, is a plant form of omega-3. It’s found in flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, canola, and soybean oils. Our bodies can’t make ALA, which makes it an essential fatty acid (e.g., you should get it from food). Omega-3’s also include eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. EPA and DHA are the marine forms of omega-3s, usually found in cold-water fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel. These fatty acids can be made from ALA in the body, but our body is not efficient in this conversion, so having it in your food or from omega-3 supplements is the best bet.
Omega-6 fatty acids include arachidonic acid, or AA, and linoleic acid. Sources of linoleic acid include vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds; arachidonic acid is found in meat and eggs. Along with the omega-3 ALA, linoleic acid is the other essential fatty acid. Unlike omega-3s and omega-6s, omega-9 fatty acids can be made in your body, making them nonessential fatty acids. Top sources for omega-9s are canola and olive oils, and almonds.
Lab testing for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Several Omega-3s lab tests are available for online purchase. The Omega-3 Index (O3I) test is the percentage of EPA and DHA in total fatty acids in your red blood cell membranes. For example, if you have 64 fatty acids in a cell membrane and 3 are EPA and DHA, then you would have an Omega-3 Index of 4.7% (3 divided by 64 times 100). An Omega-3 Index of 8% or higher is the ideal, the lowest risk zone for heart diseases. However, most people hover around 6% or below. In the US, most people are at the 4% level or below, which adds a risk factor to the overall risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Another test is the ratio between your Omega-6 to Omega-3. It measures several types of Omega-6s and Omega-3s and is calculated by dividing the sum of seven omega-6 fatty acids by the sum of four omega-3 fatty acids (n6:n3). A third test measures the ratio between arachidonic acid (AA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and is called the AA/EPA ratio.
The Trans Fat Index is the percent of 18:1 and 18:2 trans fatty acids of total fatty acids in your red blood cell membranes, and the desirable range
is <1%. Trans fatty acids (or trans fats) in our blood come only from our food because our bodies cannot make them. Trans fats are found in industrial production by the "partial hydrogenation" of vegetable oils, in which liquid oils are converted into solid fats. Another source of trans fat is from meat and milk products of ruminant animals, like cows and goats. The fatty acids that are measured in the Trans Fat Index lab test are normally chosen because they were typically found in processed foods, but a small amount may come from ruminant sources. Trans fats from processed foods are strongly related to heart disease. Some labs also offer a full report of each fatty acid measured in the Trans Fat Index.
World Health Organization (WHO) call to remove tans fat by 2023
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)4 approximately 540,000 deaths each year can be attributed to the intake of industrially-produced trans-fatty acids. High trans fat intake increases the risk of death from any cause by 34%, coronary heart disease deaths by 28%, and coronary heart disease by 21%.2 This is likely because on lipid levels: trans fat increases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while lowering HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Trans fats have no known health benefits.
World Health Organization (WHO) has called on all countries to remove trans fats from their food supplies by 2023.
Trans fats and processed food are a major risk factor for coronary diseases. Higher Omega-3 EPA and DHA levels have been linked to improved heart health, brain health, reduced risk for autoimmune diseases, and help to maintain normal RBC structural and functional integrity, which means longer longevity. Most of us have a low Omega-3 Index. It is recommended to eat at least 8 ounces of seafood each week or to take supplements. At home, omega-3 lab tests are available online and can be ordered without a doctor.
Is omega 3 the same as fish oil? Do you know what your O3I is?
1. Jill Hahn, et al. Vitamin D and marine omega 3 fatty acid supplementation and incident autoimmune disease: VITAL randomized controlled trial BMJ 2022; 376 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-066452
2. M I McBurney, N L Tintle, W S Harris, The omega-3 index is inversely associated with the neutrophil-lymphocyte ratio in adults, Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids Volume 177, February 2022, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plefa.2022.102397
3. M I McBurney, N L Tintle, W S Harris, Omega-3 index is directly associated with a healthy red blood cell distribution width, Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids Volume 176, November 22, 2021, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plefa.2021.10237