If we can easily test our blood glucose and cholesterol levels, why can't we test the level of omega 3 fatty acids in our blood? Nothing -- not cholesterol or even C-reactive protein levels -- is better at predicting sudden cardiac death, which still causes about 60 percent of cardiac disease death in the United States, according to an analysis by Centers for Disease Control researchers.
For years this lack of an omega 3 blood test puzzled me. No more. It has finally arrived.
The HS-Omega-3 Index uses a standardized methodology to measure the percentage of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in red blood cells. It also measures the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6.
Some cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and sardines have a lot of this healthy omega 3 fat. I follow the standard recommendation to eat one of these fish at least twice a week. I supplement my fish with krill oil capsules for even more omega 3.
Americans generally have low levels of omega 3 -- and those of us with diabetes tend to be lower still. A study of 163 adults in Kansas City, Missouri, who weren't taking fish oil supplements found that their red blood cells average 4.9 percent EPA plus DHA.
Four factors significantly and independently influenced how much EPA and DHA they had in their systems: fish servings, age, BMI, and diabetes, the study concluded. "The index increased by 0.24 units with each additional monthly serving of tuna or non-fried fish, and by 0.5 units for each additional decade in age. The Index was 1.13% units lower in subjects with diabetes and decreased by 0.3% units with each 3-unit increase in BMI."
For 17 years researchers tracked 22,071 doctors in the Physician's Health Study. Sudden death was the first sign that 94 of these doctors had heart disease. Researchers divided them into four equal-sized groups known as quartiles based on how much omega 3 was in their blood. Those in the highest quartile had an 81 percent lower risk of sudden death.
Based on these and other studies, the scientists who developed the new HS-Omega-3 Index say that it should be between 8 percent and 11 percent. In this range "cardiovascular disease, specifically sudden cardiac death, is rare."
An American and a German scientist teamed up to develop the new test. William Harris, Ph.D., is the director of metabolism and nutrition research at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Professor Clemens von Schacky, M.D., is the head of Preventive Cardiology of the University of Munich. The letters "HS" in HS-Omega-3 Index stand for both the initials of their family names and for high sensitivity.
Both of them have good websites with lots of information about the test. OmegaQuant Analytics is in Sioux Falls, and Omegametrix GmbH is in Germany.
But I ordered my test from GeneSmart instead because their posted price was less, $129.95. I even dickered over it, getting a further $10 off for a net price of $119.95.
That's not all. By using this code "GSCENTRAL10" with your order you can get the same $119.95 price that I got. But only until January 31.
This is a fasting test. It uses a 2 ml blood sample that you let dry and send off to the lab, just as we do with home A1C and vitamin D tests.
In a follow-up report I'll let you know the results of my HS-Omega-3 Index. Even though my level of omega 3 is high, my concern is that my ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is out of balance from the meat that I have been eating.