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Omega Fatty Acids

Omega fatty acids (OFA) are a group of fats called “essential fatty acids” as they are exclusively obtained through our diet and are important to provide energy and support several important functions to keep us healthy. It is the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are of the most interest for their health benefits.

The most important omega-3s are alpha-linolenic (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Diets rich in foods high in omega-3 fatty acids have been suggested to be associated with reducing the risk of heart disease. The main omega-6 fatty acids are linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA). Omega-6 fatty acids have more of an opposing counterbalancing action to omega-3s. A balance between both types of omega fatty acids is optimal for good health.

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About this biomarker analysis

What will my Omega fatty acids results show?

Our services that monitor omega fatty acids focus on the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 in the blood and report on specific ratios of these. The results give you an indication as to whether you are obtaining enough omega fatty acids in your diet which are important in heart health and moderating inflammation. Omega-3s have also been reported to be important for eye health, mental health and reducing incidence of preterm birth. Because these fatty acids are responsive to dietary changes, the results are a way for you to track the impact of dietary and lifestyle changes you make.

The Omega-3 index measures the levels of the omega-3 fatty acids of EPA and DHA in blood and reports this value as a percentage of total blood fatty acids. Raising your Omega-3 Index to a desirable level above 8% is proposed to be linked to lowering the risk of heart disease. Readings in the range of 4 to 8% are considered to present an intermediate risk of heart disease whereas below 4% is suggested to put you at a higher risk. Eating more foods high in omega-3s has been shown to raise the omega-3 index.

The Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio (only available in our Omega-3 nutrition service) looks at the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood. Both fatty acids are important for good health, but having too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s may push the body into a more inflammatory state. This is when the immune system is over-stimulated and acts as if responding to an external threat that isn’t there. Too much inflammation is linked with damage to blood vessels, heart disease, diabetes and some cancer. Low consumption of omega-3s compared with omega-6s may contribute to an imbalanced inflammatory response and higher risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis and heart failure. A ratio of between 3:1 to 5:1 appears to be optimal. Through our Omega-3 nutrition service we can help you keep track of your dietary changes and how they impact the omega fatty acids and nutritional health.

The AA:EPA ratio is similar to the Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio except that it looks at specific types of fatty acids. These are the omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) and the omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids can be metabolised to produce signal molecules that are involved in inflammation and overall health. A lower ratio indicates a less inflammatory profile and this will change over time as your diet changes. Although an optimal level to maintain good health is yet to be established by the clinical community, an AA:EPA ratio of 1.5:1 is good to aim for. This is the ratio found in the Japanese population having the lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease and greatest longevity. Eating more foods high in omega-3s will help lower the ratio.

The trans fat index(only available in our Healthy Heart service) looks at the levels of a special type of fatty acid. Our diet is the main source of trans fats and most of these are formed during the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to make things like margarine and solid cooking fats. Trans fats are strongly linked to cardiovascular disease. Blood levels of trans fats reflect levels in the diet. Eating less foods high in trans fats such as pastry products, sausages and luncheon meats, and creamy style pasta dishes will help lower the trans fat index.

Monitoring your Omega fatty acid levels will help you track the impact of dietary changes on your health.

The MonitorYou omega fatty acid results report contains:

  • Your result for Omega-3 index, AA:EPA ratio and trans fats index (Healthy Heart) and additionally Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio (Omega-3 Nutrition)
  • An indication if you fall within the desirable range
  • Key information to help you understand your result

Note: The omega fatty acid analysis is not designed for diagnostic use or clinical management. If you suspect that you may have cardiovascular disease or any other life threatening condition you should seek immediate medical attention.

For clinicians and consumers who want in depth detail about the dried blood spot technology and other clinical and quality aspects of our omega fatty acid analysis click here.

For more information please read our frequently asked questions.

About omega fatty acids

Omega fatty acids are a group of fatty acids found in food and in our bodies with unique chemical and health properties.

Omega-3s have a crucial role in helping to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy and the immune system working normally. A diet rich in foods high in omega-3 fatty acids is linked with a decreased risk of heart disease.

Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential fatty acids with the main one of interest called arachidonic acid (AA). Omega-6 fatty acids have more of an opposing counterbalancing action to omega-3s. They can promote inflammation, blood clotting, and the constriction of blood vessels. A balance between the omega-6s and omega-3s is needed for good health and where omega-6s are just as important for healthy brain development, heart health and a robust immune system.

Trans fats are a special type of unsaturated fatty acid. They occur either naturally in food as part of things like dairy foods and meat, or are introduced artificially as part of the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils. These manufactured trans fats are found in things like baked goods such as cakes and pies, margarine and many take-away fried foods. High consumption of artificially manufactured trans fats is linked to heart disease, inflammation, higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol levels.

There are several biomarkers of omega fatty acids that can be used to assess the likely health impacts of changes in the different fatty acids. See About this biomarker analysis

What can affect my omega fatty acid results?

A healthy range of omega fatty acids helps to maintain a healthy heart and lower the risk of inflammation. Omega fatty acid levels are largely influenced by the amount of these fatty acids in your diet so measurements are generally more reflective of what your diet is like and will change as your diet changes.

There are very few medications known to influence omega fatty acid results. Common anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and indomethacin may influence the results.

Certain medical factors are known to affect omega fatty acid levels. Many of these conditions have the common theme of impaired fat digestion and absorption.

  • Pancreatic insufficiency (where the pancreas does not make enough digestive enzymes)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Conditions of high levels of inflammation (such as autoimmune diseases)
  • Chronic malnutrition

Incorrect sample collection can affect your omega fatty acid result: using the at-home dried blood spot service is different to taking a fingerprick test with your doctor or taking a daily blood glucose measurement. It’s important to follow the instructions provided inside the blood collection kit and follow them step-by-step. Your results can be affected by incorrectly collecting your sample. And, if the spots are not large enough, you may be asked to repeat the sample collection. You’ll also need to pay close attention to the instructions on returning your sample to us.

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Different laboratories: blood results from different laboratories can and do vary. This is because different laboratories may use different methods of analysis. This should be considered if you’re comparing results to those from other labs. For more information please read our frequently asked questions.