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Issue 59: Are You Omega-3 Deficient? (Huh?)

Do you know your omega-3 numbers? If not, you may want to add that to your “to do” list soon. Why? Omega-3s—and how your body processes them—are becoming increasingly important to a person’s overall health.

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, can help support a healthy heart and blood vessels, support brain health, maintain healthy blood pressure levels and joints, support healthy levels of inflammation, as well as healthy skin, nails, and hair—among other health benefits.

And while people may know their cell phone digits, shoe size, or even their vision numbers, most people may not be aware of their omega-3 numbers—and with good reason. There has not been a standardized way of testing for omega-3s, but that may be changing soon.

That’s right. There’s something new on the health horizon, and it has to do with measuring a person’s omega-3 levels. The truth is that measuring a person’s omega-3 levels may be a more efficient way of measuring health status in a variety of areas, including the area of heart health.

Erminia  Guarmeri, M.D., cardiologist, founder, and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, CA, indicates that the research is showing that there’s a marked increase in health benefits in people who consume omega-3 fatty acids. In particular, she cites healthy heart, inflammation, and blood sugar effects.

Most of us know that the typical American diet is too high in omega-6s and far short in omega-3s—about 20 omega-6s to 1 omega-3. The ratio to shoot for is around four omega-6s to one omega-3. Did you know, however, that the research is showing that people who have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of less than 4:1 can have even further health benefits? 

And while we’re on the subject of omega-6 to omega-3 ratios, many studies have looked at different fatty acids in varied populations. Guarmeri lends some insight into one specific study: “A very interesting study was done that looked at the phospholipid profile of people from the U.S. and Europe, compared to Japan and compared it to the Greenland Eskimos—who are some of the healthiest people,” she explained.

Guarmeri continues: “When they looked at the phospholipid contents of the membranes and looked at the omega 3 to omega 6 ratios, at the time the study was done, the ratio was 50:1, which is extremely high, but a reflection of the American diet at the time. In the Greenland Eskimos, it was 1:1.”

Simply put, what the research is showing is that people who have ratios of less than 4:1 can greatly improve their health. Additional research needs to be done, but more and more people understand that a diet rich in omega-3s or omega-3 supplementation is important.

Dr. Guarmeri is not alone in the omega-3 movement, however.

In a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, Bernardine Healy, M.D. discussed the benefits of increased omega-3 intake. She talked about how the omega-3 compounds eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) actually “become embedded in the membrane of each of the trillions of cells that make up the body, and from that perch influence cell structure and function, including cell-to-cell communication and electrical stability. On demand, they also generate a reservoir of hormone-like molecules to help support body-wide health.

She concludes, “All cells feel the pinch of omega-3 deficiencies.”

But when can we expect a test for omega-3s? William Harris, Ph.D., senior scientist and director of the Metabolism and Nutrition Research Center at Sanford School of Medicine, has been working to create a standardized omega-3 test since 2002. He hopes to have this test available by early 2009.

So don’t be surprised if other tests are soon replaced by this new omega-3 testing. It is showing great potential.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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