What is an omega-3 index?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential unsaturated fat that come from your diet. The three main type of omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
Your omega-3 index reflects the amount of omega-3s in your red blood cells. For example, if 10% of the fatty acids are EPA and/or DHA, then your omega-3 index will be 10%.
What is its function?
Omega-3s make up a part of the structure of each cell in your body and help you to produce hormones. They're also really important for brain function and are linked to good eye health. And because of their anti-inflammatory effects they're thought to help prevent heart disease and some cancers. They're also linked to better sleep and mental health.
Your omega-3 index is thought to help predict your risk of heart disease. An omega-3 index of 4% or less is associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease.
What can cause it to change?
Your omega-3 levels are largely influenced by the amount of omega-3s you get from your diet.
What are the most common symptoms?
If you don't get enough essential fatty acids like omega-3 it can cause rough skin and dermatitis.
What can I do to change my levels?
If your omega-3 index is low, you can increase your levels by eating more foods rich in omega-3s. Oily fish, like salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna and sardines, is one of the best sources — try to aim to eat two portions a week. Although not as rich a source, grass-fed meat and omega-3 enriched eggs can also help to increase your levels.
There are some plant sources of omega-3, like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and hemp seeds. But your body finds it harder to use this type of omega-3 (ALA). If you’re vegan, vegetarian or don’t eat a lot of fish you might need to think about taking a supplement.
- There are lots of different types of omega-3 supplements. Some are better than others so keep the following in mind:
- make sure your supplement contains both EPA and DHA — algal oil is the only vegan omega-3 supplement with these forms
- avoid supplements that contain omega-3s in the form of ethyl esters
- don't buy in bulk and make sure it contain an antioxidant like vitamin E — the high fat content makes them prone to going off
Don't take more than 3 grams of omega-3s per day because of a possible increased risk of bleeding.
You should speak with a health professional before starting a supplement. If you're taking blood thinning drugs, like warfarin or aspirin, or any medication for diabetes, you should only take supplements under the supervision of your doctor.