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Know Your Numbers – Two Tests that Provide a New Level of Heart Health

Mlab testing equipment such as beakers and syringes half full of liquid against white backgroundost of us are familiar with the common health numbers our doctor's measure and share with us. These include levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose, etc. If our numbers are in a healthy range, we continue what we’ve been doing, but if they stray outside of the safe range, we need to do whatever we can to nudge these key metrics back into the ideal levels, which will help our bodies and brains to function their best and keep us youthful and healthy.
Two blood tests that are emerging as very important health parameters are the Omega-3 index and vitamin D level.
While slightly harder to obtain, these numbers can be measured and according to Joan O’Keefe, RD, “Should be just like getting your normal lipid panels measured. People need to be informed and start asking to have more than just their basic numbers measured.”
Why you need to have your Omega-3 and Vitamin D levels measured.
The Omega-3 Index is a measure of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA+DHA, in red blood cells. This test provides a picture to estimate your risk of a cardiovascular event such as sudden cardiac death, heart attack, or stroke. The omega-3s support heart and brain function by targeting triglycerides and inflammatory pathways; a higher index level confers greater heart & brain support.*
Another health advantage of testing your omega-3 levels is in relation to emotional wellness. Earlier this year, a first-of-its-kind meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials covering 2240 participants from 11 countries saw improvement in anxiety symptoms associated with those consuming omega-3 as reported in both placebo-controlled and non–placebo-controlled trials. A Japanese study with over 2,000 participants aged 40 and over showed that those with the lowest levels of EPA and DHA levels had the highest risk of depression.*
Omega-3’s roles in brain function and structure help to explain how it affects mood. A study scanning the brain volume of 55 participants showed the more omega-3 they consumed the larger the gray matter volume in areas of the brain important for regulating mood. In other words, a high intake of omega-3 was linked with a plump, youthful brain.
If you’re like the typical American who doesn’t consume much fish, you likely have an omega-3 index of 4% or less. If your index is 8% or greater, you're in the ideal range. If your index is under 4%, you need to do whatever it takes to move that index to 8% or higher.
How to know if you’re getting enough?
While increasing omega-3 intake from food or supplements can increase your omega-3 blood levels, a multitude of factors will influence how much they actually increase. The same amount of omega-3 can be given to different people and result in a range of responses depending on how their bodies process the nutrient. By measuring your index, you can take the guesswork out of knowing whether or not your heart and brain have the omega-3 fats they need to be their best.
Vitamin D
While also beneficial for heart health, vitamin D plays a role in supporting immune system function as well as helping the body absorb and retain key minerals for bone health.*
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-quarter of Americans have inadequate vitamin D levels and 8% are deficient in this key nutrient. The elderly, obese people, and people who don't get enough sun exposure all have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
The effects of vitamin D deficiency for organs other than bone are not fully known but may include impaired immunity, so people looking to keep their bones strong and healthy bones and their immune system vigilant and youthful will want to measure their levels.
How to Test:
With the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, private payers and Medicare do offer coverage for patients with conditions that put them at risk. Check with your insurance to see if you’re covered for testing. Unfortunately, despite the vast amount of scientific data on omega-3, most insurance does not cover the cost of the omega-3 test. Find out how to test your levels!


In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD