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Check your Omega-3 oils—not your cholesterol—to predict death risk

Check your Omega-3 oils—not your cholesterol—to predict death risk

I have previously explained that serum cholesterol measurements have limited value to predict heart disease. If it is a test you want to predict heart disease and death risk, then learn about the omega-3 oil test. You’ll want to tell your doctor about this one. 

Measuring serum cholesterol—why?

You probably know the health value of omega-3 oil in your diet. Healing oils are a vital micronutrient, along with plant-based vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Foods highest in these micronutrients reverse disease. 

However, cholesterol’s affect on our health is somewhat confusing. We know it is required for healthy hormone synthesis, but it can also become oxidized to contribute to atherosclerosis in your heart arteries. Large studies tell us that measuring your LDL-cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) may—or may not—correlate with heart disease. For example, remember these studies: 

  • Dr. DeBakey, the famous heart surgeon reported in 1964 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on his 1,700 open heart surgery patients in which he found no correlation between blood cholesterol levels and the severity of their coronary artery disease. 
  • The Framingham Study followed 5209 randomly selected men and women between the ages of 30 and 62 beginning in 1948. Then in 1977 researchers examined blood cholesterol levels of 2,815 of these men and women aged 49 to 82 years and reported that, “Total cholesterol was not associated with the risk of coronary heart disease.”
  • A landmark study in 2009 revealed that nearly 75% of patients who had been hospitalized for a heart attack had LDL cholesterol levels within the recommended target (i.e. “normal levels”) for LDL cholesterol.
  • Similar rates of heart attack and overall death occur equally in groups who lowered their cholesterol compared to group who did not, according to the results of more than 40 different clinical trials. 

Now you may be wondering why we give so much attention to measuring serum cholesterol. The good news is, now you don’t have to. Instead, have your doctor measure your omega-3 levels in your red blood cells. I’ll tell you why. 

New study confirms Omega-3 oil more predictive than cholesterol testing

A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology, measured blood levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers call it the “Omega-3 Index” (EPA+DHA content of red blood cell membranes). They measured and followed it for seven year in 2500 participants, average age 66 years, who are children of the original Framingham Heart Study which began in 1948. 

They found that those with a higher Omega-3 Index had lower risk for heart attacks strokes. And even more importantly, the health risk reduction most strongly associated with those in the highest Omega-3 Index was deaths from all other causes. This means that there are far more beneficial actions of EPA and DHA on your health than just arterial plaque build-up. The risk for total mortality (death from any cause) in those who in the highest Omega-3 Index group was about 33% lower than those in the lowest Omega-3 Index group. 

The authors point out that serum cholesterol levels, when substituted for the Omega-3 Index using the same multi-variable models, was not significantly associated with the disease outcomes they tracked; whereas the Omega-3 Index related to 4 of the 5 outcomes they assessed.

This was not the first study to show this. This link between higher omega-3 levels in the blood and lower risk for death was previously reported in other studies.   

In my opinion, it is time to begin using the Omega-3 Index with your routine blood screens. 

To long term health,

Michael Cutler, M.D.

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