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Omega 3 Fatty Acids

RBC Omega-3 Index

There are two main ‘types’ of omega-3 fatty acids: those derived from plants [alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)], and those derived from seafoods [eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)]. The omega-3 index is a measure of red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid content (RBC EPA+DHA expressed as a percent of total identified RBC fatty acids).1 These omega-3 fatty acids are important constituents of cell membranes in the body, where the correct fatty acid composition is vital to cardiometabolic and overall health. The omega-3 index has many features that qualify it as not only a biomarker of omega-3 intake, but also as a cardiovascular risk marker and most importantly, a risk factor and target for therapy.The omega-3 index is typically low (< 4%) in individuals who do not ingest significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, either from the diet or as supplements. A low omega-3 index is associated with increased risk for CVD, stroke, and sudden cardiac death.

An optimal omega-3 index (≥ 8%) has positive effects on heart rate, blood pressure, TG levels, inflammatory responses, and endothelial function. Blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are positively associated with leukocyte telomere length, an emerging biomarker of biological age.3 A high omega-3 index may also reduce the impact of stress and aging on the brain, thereby helping to protect cognitive performance and delay the onset of age-related dementia. The omega-3 index can be raised by increasing intake of EPA and DHA oily fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, mackerel) or omega-3 supplements. Vegetarians can obtain omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) from foods including flaxseed, chia seed, certain vegetable oils (e.g., soybean, olive, and walnut), green leafy vegetables (small amounts), or algal omega-3 supplements.

  1. Harris WS, von Schacky C.? Prev Med 2004;39:212–220.
  2. Harris WS. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2009;11:411–417.
  3. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, et al.. Brain Behav Immun 2013;28:16–24.



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Poor gut health is at the heart of many chronic conditions. A healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract is vital to overall well-being and even survival. A recent explosion of scientific research worldwide, including the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), is providing new insights into the importance of the gut as the “gateway to good health” and giving new meaning to the phrase “you are what you eat.”

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