“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein
A few weeks ago (as documented in this post) I pricked a finger, dabbed some blood on a blotter card and, feeling rather smug that I’d “upper percentile” the hell out of the results, sent the sample off to have my Omega-3 levels checked via the Holman Omega-3 Test.
Well, the results are in…and they’re rather surprising. Actually, they’re disturbing.
But before we dive into my actual results, let’s look at an explanation of how the test results are reported. This is straight from the email that accompanied the results documentation –
The main indexes of omega 3 health are the value for total omega 3 and the percent of omega 3 in HUFA (highly unsaturated fatty acids). Total omega 3 levels are reported as a percentage. If you have a total omega 3 score of 5% that means that there are 5 omega 3 fatty acids for every 100 fatty acids in your blood. Most Americans have around 4% total omega 3, which is widely considered as deficient. It is my target to have your total omega 3 above 9% (or 9 omega 3 fatty acids out of every 100 fatty acids in your blood).
Several studies have shown that having a high omega 3 blood score reduces your risk for heart disease, diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and numerous other chronic diseases. Omega 3 fatty acids also fight inflammation caused by omega 6 fatty acids. Having a good balance between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids helps to balance out our inflammatory response.
The Omega 3 Test report also supplies your Lands’ test score or ‘omega 3 in HUFA’ score. This score was developed by Dr Bill Lands and clearly defines the relationship between omega 3 and omega 6 balance with respect to heart disease.
Dr Lands’ recommends having a omega 3 in HUFA score above 50% or a level where both omega 6 and omega 3 HUFA are equal in our blood. The graphic with this score in the attached report demonstrates the relationship between this score and heart attack death rates. Compared to a score of 20%, populations having a score of 50% have less mortality from heart disease as shown in the figure.
If you are eating a diet rich in omega 3 and/or taking fish oil supplements, your omega 3 in HUFA is probably high. If you didn’t score so well, i.e., less than 35% it is time to think of some ways to increase your number. Adding omega 3 rich fish to your diet on a weekly basis is one way. Fish that are naturally rich in omega 3 include salmon, trout, sardines (canned is fine too), albacore tuna and menhaden. There are also a number of food items you can buy that are enriched in long chain omega 3 like omega 3 eggs, omega 3 juice, omega 3 cheese and milk.
Another excellent way to add omega 3 to your diet is to use a high quality fish oil supplement. Experts, i.e., The American Heart Institute, recommend that people consume at least 1000mg of EPA, DPA and DHA (the 3 main types of omega 3) per day. 1000mg of long chain omega 3 is about 3 capsules of fish oil per day. 2000mg would be 6 capsules per day. If you are like me and miss 1-2 days of supplementing per week, increase your dose to account for those lost days. If you miss 2 days and want to consume 3 capsules per day or 21 per week, then take 4-5 per day to account for the lost days.
People often comment that 3-8 capsules sounds like a lot of fish oil. If you view this in the context of your normal daily diet you will see that this amount is only a small percentage of your daily fat intake and it is a healthy fat that you are using. We normally eat 80-100g of fat in our diets each day. Each fish oil pill is about 1g. So if we are eating 4g of fish oil per day that is only a few percent of our normal dietary intake of fat.
The Food and Drug Administration states that up to 3000mg of long chain omega 3 per day is safe. This is equivalent to about 12 capsules of fish oil per day.
If you are looking for ways to balance out your omega 3 and omega 6 in your diet, there is an excellent resource by Dr Bill Lands called the Omega Balance Score system. This system ascribes a number or score to foods based on their level of omega 6 or omega 3. You want to avoid foods rich in omega 6 that have a large negative number and focus on foods that are close to zero or have a positive number.
Ok, so that’s the 30-thousand view of the how the results are reported. Now, let’s check out how I fared. Below is a link to my actual report:
Well, damn. For a guy who prides himself on being food conscious and pretty damn all-around Paleo savvy, and who eats his fair share of omega-3 laden foods — not to mention pasture-raised products and raw dairy — my omega-3 levels suck friggin’ ass. And my omega-6/omega-3 ratio is even worse. What in the blazin’ hell, Batman?
So, two things come immediately to mind: (1) I wonder if there is some yet-to-be-described mechanism whereby one can actually “burn through” a large amount of omega-3 via lifestyle choices. In my case, I’m specifically referring to a heavy workout frequency/volume, coupled with a go-go work schedule. And (2), I wonder where the hell all that omega-6 is coming from? I eat very little of what would be considered the big offenders here. So what gives?
But I think the big game changer here is seafood, and I simply don’t consume enough of that. If you look at the two previous links which contain the omega-6/omega-3 score for various foods, this becomes abundantly clear. It also suggests, from an evolutionary perspective, our species’ intimate relationship with the sea. That we survived perfectly well as inland hunter-gatherers obscures the fact that we absolutely thrived in coastal regions. There’s probably a hell of a lot more to the draw of white sands and coconut palms than simply relaxation and escape from cubicle hell. I’m quite sure it’s a biological draw as well.
So, game plan going forward? Here it is: I’ll vow to do what I can to incorporate more omega-3 heavy foods in my day-to-day diet. The big player here, of course, will be to include more seafood as a protein source, however, I could do better at including more green leafy stuff as well. I’ll have to say that, 9 times out of 10, I’ll roll with tubers/roots over green/leafy for sides, and this probably has more to do with my overall work output than anything else. I would guess that my preference for tubers/roots probably has much to do with my body’s desire to replenish scorched glycogen stores than issues of taste. I’m all about spinach and kale, for example; I’m drawn, however, to the “weightier” tubers and roots. And I guess the same could be said for protein choices. “Heavier” beef, or more delicate seafood? Most times, I’ll opt for “heavy”. Something for me to consider going forward into 2014.
Ahhhhhhh….49, and still learning; still figuring things out. That’s a win in my book 😉
Next up, I will be leveraging a little 21st century technology to achieve ancestral wellness; namely, on or about January 18th, I’ll begin my ID Life Nutrition supplementation regimen. This will include an individualized daily dose of omega-3s as determined via the results of my extensive on-line assessment. This coming summer I’ll retake the Holman Omega-3 blood and see exactly where I am. By using both a coarse (frequent, on-line assessment) and fine (intermittent blood test) calibrations, I’ll be able to better dial-in my n=1, omega-3 intake needs on a daily basis.
By the way, the very same “frequent assessment/intermittent bloodwork” protocol can be used with vitamin D3 levels, and I plan to do just that as well. I’m certainly not saying that omega-3 and vitamin D3 are the end-all, be-all, but they do offer a hell of an efficient health indicating “mile marker” that’s easily (1) tested for and, (2) adjusted via lifestyle and supplementation.
Also, I want to give a special shout-out to the super-intelligent (and newly-minted PhD!) Mike T. Nelson for putting me in touch with the Holman testing folks. It was much appreciated, Mike. And Mike will be at this spring’s Paleo f(x) event in Austin so, if you’re in attendance, be sure to chat him up. He’s a great guy!
And if you’re curious about what other n=1, lab rat testing I’ve done on myself — and how I’ve altered my day-to-day activity in light of that testing — checkout these two posts: full-on blood panel overview, and my DEXA analysis.
Happy new year, everyone. Let’s rock 2014! 🙂
In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –