Omega-3 test to determine heart disease risk

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Omega-3 index Omega-3 fatty acid

A take-home kit that allows consumers to measure their omega-3 levels claims to be a better predictor of heart disease risk than cholesterol levels, while having the potential to act as an efficacy measure.

The ‘finger prick’ device allows consumers to get a reading of the omega-3 fatty acid profile in their blood for about $150, including lab analysis of ratios and concentrations. Omega-6 and other fatty acids are also measured and ratios provided.

The science officer at Gene Smart, the company behind the Omega-3 Index measure, Floyd ‘Ski’ Chilton, PhD, said recent publications had indicated the strength of omega-3 as an indicator of potential heart disease.

“Four or five studies centered around the work of William S. Harris have shown that the percentage of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in the blood act as powerful indicators of future heart events,”​ Dr Chilton told

“In these analyses of large databases, the results are more accurate than traditional markers such as HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.”

But he said more studies were required to back up the initial findings.

Bioavailability, metabolism and efficacy

In addition to predicting future heart events the test could act as an accurate means for those taking omega-3 supplements and foods to determine how much EPA and DHA was finding its way from the food to their blood stream – and by association – how much of the nutrients were in products in the first place.

Dr Chilton said this was complicated by differing metabolic rates among individuals which meant omega-3 absorption rates differed greatly from one person to the next.

“If you are taking omega-3s you want to know about concentrations and ratios,” ​he said. “Until nutrigenomics are able to provide this kind of information, which is unlikely in less than 10 years, this kind of test is valuable.”

He added: “The fact people can do it within their own homes creates a level of accuracy that has not been seen in the omega-3 industry.”

Dr Chilton said an EPA/DHA ratio between 4-8 percent of total blood fatty acids was typical, with four percent indicating a high risk of a cardiovascular event, and eight percent indicating a lower risk.

The executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED), Adam Ismail, said gaining official recognition for the measure was difficult, especially when the fact triglyceride levels were not yet recognized as a risk factor for heart disease were considered.

“Hopefully the continuing science, and tests like this one, will continue to make the omega-3 index visible enough that it does eventually get fully recognition as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,”​ he said.

He questioned the test’s ability to determine product efficacy as there were too many complicating factors such as consumption of fish and other unmeasured omega-3 sources.

He also wondered whether at $150 a pop, the test was affordable enough to be used regularly by consumers and noted similar cholesterol tests were not widely used by North Americans.

He said support for the devices would be greatly enhanced if the medical fraternity backed them and doctors sued them in patient consultations.

“If a consumer is not taking their supplements every day or eating fish regularly, doctors and dieticians will have a target to aim for and can coach the patients,”​ Ismail said.

Another company, Nutrasource Diagnostics, offers a similar a product.

Research grounding

William S. Harris, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Basic Biomedical Sciences at the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota and co-author of the American Heart Association's Scientific Advisory on Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

Dr Harris has published more than 80 scientific articles on omega-3s, including a 2004 study published in Preventive Medicine​ (Vol. 39, 2004) that first proposed an omega-3 index as a cardiovascular risk factor.

The omega-3 device employs Dr Harris's proprietary Omega-3 Index methodology which recommends an EPA/DHA ratio of about eight to 10 percent. At this level the risk of sudden cardiac death could be reduced by up to 90 percent, he said.

Other research conducted by Dr Harris and published recently in the Journal of Biological Chemistry​, indicates the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s may be responsible for an increase in body inflammation and associated conditions such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergies, diabetes and arthritis.

Gene Smart also markets a range of dietary supplements including omega-3s and herbal extracts.

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