Something slightly different from me today. You see, the missus and I are putting our bodies on the line in the name of science. Over the next few months, we’re working with vitamin and supplement specialists Seven Seas on an experiment to see whether we can increase the omega-3 in our diet. I don’t wish to compare myself to a superhero, but I’m pretty sure this must be how Captain America felt before he was given the Super-Soldier serum.
Obviously, what we eat is important and has huge impacts on our bodies, our health, our fitness and more. I like to think that we eat pretty well as a family, but that’s not to say that we don’t need to do more. The majority of our meals are cooked from scratch, include plenty of vegetables and are portioned correctly.
However, unless you have 30 years experience in food nutrition or are one of the growing number of investigative doctors on TV, it’s difficult to know if what you’re doing is right. Are we having too much of one thing and not enough of another? Who knows!
That’s where this omega-3 experiment comes in as it’ll give both the missus and I the chance to find out a bit more about what’s in our bodies. By teaming up with Seven Seas and Stirling University, our fatty acid composition in our blood will be analysed on two separate occasions – once at the start, and then at the end.
By taking Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil Maximum Strength Capsules for a two-month period, we’ll be seeing whether we can increase our omega-3 and change our fatty acid compositions, with the ultimate aim of becoming healthier. Pretty interesting, huh?
The Omega-3 Index and Blood Test
Now for some cool, sciencey stuff. As the name suggests, the Omega-3 Index is designed to measure omega-3 levels in the body and give an indication of how much omega-3 is being eaten. Just like blood cholesterol or blood pressure as an indicator of health, the omega-3 index can also be used. A blood sample is taken through a prick test, which can then be used to calculate a percentage of the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in the body’s blood cells.
A higher intake of EPA and DHA is linked with better health because the amount in red blood cells mirrors the amount in tissues like the heart. So, the higher the index, the more omega-3 in the body, which is beneficial in supporting overall health including normal heart function, vision, bone function and brain function. An index of 4 or below would be a cause for concern, while an index of 8 or above would be a good sign.
Both Hay and I were sent an omega-3 testing kit – this comprised of a lancet (pricking needle) to draw blood, a sample card and various envelopes to send the tests back. The actual test was pretty simple – it was just a matter of pricking the side of the middle finger, dabbing the blood onto the circles of the sample card, then letting it dry for a few hours.
The test didn’t hurt as such, it was just a sharp stab to the finger for half a second – it’s not like we were left with a 7 inch flesh wound. The worst thing was actually plucking up the courage to fire a needle into your own finger as it felt counter intuitive to cause pain to yourself!
We left the tests for 12 hours or so to dry, put them into the silver, padded envelopes, then posted back to Stirling University for our results to be analysed.
After a week or so, both Hay and I were provided with our test results and some commentary / analysis on what these meant. Obviously there were a lot of numbers and a lot of different things that could be pulled out, but we looked specifically at the Omega-3 Index and Lands Index results.
Omega-3 Index Results
Professor Philip Calder – who specialises in omega-3 fatty acids as a Professor of Nutritional Immunology within Medicine at the University of Southampton – gave his thoughts on our omega-3 levels:
“Fatty acids have been measured in Dave and Hayley’s red blood cells. Dave’s sample of 27/4/17 gives an omega-3 index of 4 and Hayley’s sample of 27/4/17 gives an omega-3 index of 4.1. This indicates that Dave and Hayley are not eating enough EPA and DHA as an omega-3 index of 4 or below would be a cause for concern, while an index of 8 or above would be a good sign. They should consider including more fatty fish like salmon, sardines or mackerel in their diet. Alternatively, they could consider using an omega-3 supplement that provides EPA and DHA.”
The Lands Index Result
Seven Seas consultant dietician Helen Bond, provided us with a bit of information about the Lands Index and our results:
“Dave’s Lands Index result is 25% and Hayley’s is 24%. This score measures the level of omega-3 versus the level of omega-6 in the whole blood sample. Below 50% means that action needs to be taken to reach a healthy omega-3 level, whereas 70% and above is considered an ideal omega-3 range and has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, in Western Societies we eat too much omega-6s (from sunflower, corn or sesame oils) in and too little omega-3s (from oil rich fish and plant sources including walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds).”
Fatty Acid Composition Of Blood
When our omega-3 index (i.e. EPA and DHA) was done, the lab also measured the other fatty acids in the red blood cell membrane. There’s over 25 different fatty acids – such as palmitoleic, arachidic and other stuff I’ve not heard of before – which are all present in different amounts. These fatty acids belong to one of five groups – Saturated Fats, Monounsaturated Fats, n-6 PUFA, n-3 PUFA and Dimethyl Acetals.
I was told that it’s difficult to give exact ranges of what you should be aiming for in terms of fatty acid composition of the blood, but I thought it was interesting to include this nonetheless and show the difference between mine and Hay’s.
My Thoughts On The Results
Based on the Omega-3 Index and Lands Index, things don’t look great for either Hay or I. At 4.0 and 4.1 on the Omega Index and with 25 and 24 on the Lands Index, we’re basically deemed ’causes for concern’. It sounds a bit like we’ve been causing trouble at school and have been put on report at school.
I can’t say I’m surprised with the results though. Although we think we have a good diet as mentioned above, omega-3 rich foods don’t feature in our diets much at all. When we eat fish and seafood, it tends to be cod, pollock, tinned tuna and prawns, which contains very little omega-3 compared to salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. Similarly, omega-3 rich plant sources like walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds don’t feature in our diets at all, and cod liver oil supplements aren’t something we take.
It’s interesting too that our results have slight variations. We always eat together as a family at dinner time, so obviously the missus and I eat the same food. However, we tend to eat different things at breakfast and lunch, which explains the slight differences in our results.
Over the next three months, Hay and I will be taking two Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil Maximum Strength Capsules each day. These are a natural source of omega-3 fish oil and are also rich in Vitamins D & E, which helps to maintain good health. Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil Maximum Strength Capsules (RRP £7.99) are available nationwide, and can be found at Boots within their 3 for 2 offer section.
As the trial is only running for three months, we’re taking a high – but safe – amount of supplements (i.e. two per day rather than one). This is something scientists regularly do on short trials to see if the intervention / treatment has any effect. If not, then it suggests the treatment doesn’t work – if so, then it can be inferred that a smaller dose over a longer period would have similar effect.
Following the three-month supplementing period, we’ll then do a second omega-3 test. Although the temptation is to fill our shopping basket with more oily fish, we’re going to continue to eat as we normally do so that any change can be directly attributed to the capsules. After that, we’ll get our results back – here’s hoping that we can increase our levels and see improvements to the Omega-3 Index and Lands Index.
Update 26/10/17: As the experiment is now over, you can have a read of the interesting – and surprising – results here.