If you went beyond our Omega-3 Index basic test and decided to try our Plus or Complete test, then there is a lot more than EPA and DHA you need to know about. The results of these tests will give you your Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio, as well as your Trans Fat Index, and a whole lot more. Let’s talk about how these play a role in your health.
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 — Good vs. Evil?
The Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio report provides analysis for seven omega-6 fatty acids and four omega-3 fatty acids and it is performed from your whole blood as opposed to red blood cell membranes like the Omega-3 Index. The total amount of omega-6s and omega-3s are divided by each other to get a ratio. We recommend a ratio of 3:1-5:1 (omega-6:omega-3). In your report, it will be displayed in the little blue circles and then on the scale to the right. (See example below.)
A more specific ratio is the AA:EPA ratio, which is your level of arachidonic acid (AA), an omega-6 fatty acid, vs. eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid. These are important fatty acids in metabolism because eicosanoids and prostaglandins can be made from them. Eicosanoids and prostaglandins play many roles in the body, especially in inflammation, fever promotion, blood pressure regulation, and blood clotting.
AA and EPA are very potent substances that have the ability to cause a lot of changes in the body. Having different levels of these two fatty acids could affect processes that ultimately impact inflammation and overall health.
We recommend optimizing the omega-3 side of the equation, which inevitably means increasing your Omega-3 Index and getting into the optimal range or the green zone (between 8-12%). We believe is much easier and actionable to change your omega-3 status vs. your omega-6 status. One of the reasons is that the body has much more omega-6 in the red blood cells and in whole blood than omega-3s, and some of that we can change with diet and some of that we cannot. Ultimately, it is easier to spot changes on the omega-3 side and bring about the benefits you want by increasing your Omega-3 Index.
We at OmegaQuant are aware that some people generally consider omega-3s to be good and omega-6 to be bad. However, we have seen research showing that higher levels of linoleic acid, a prevalent omega-6 fatty acid in the diet, is linked to better outcomes in terms of cardiovascular health and diabetes. So rather than focus on lowering your omega-6s, we believe increasing your omega-3s will automatically balance out this ratio and is a goal that is attainable for most people.
The Skinny on Trans Fats
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled in 2015 that artificial trans fats were unsafe to eat and gave food-makers three years to eliminate them from the food supply, with a deadline of June 18, 2018. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the first researchers to discover a link between artificial trans fats and cholesterol and heart disease, said the ban could reduce the number of people who die from heart disease and curb the incidence of diabetes, dementia, and other metabolic diseases.
OmegaQuant’s Trans Fat Index is a measure of the trans fats in your red blood cell membranes. These are referred to as 18:1 and 18:2 trans and they primarily come from industrially produced fats in processed foods like pie crusts and microwave popcorn — they cannot be made by the body, so the Trans Fat Index is a very specific marker of diet. Trans fats are very detrimental to heart health, so much so that the UN has asked ALL countries to phase them out of the food supply by 2021.
“Over the last 10 years, we have seen trans fat levels decrease by 50% as they’ve been taken out of food. If you have a Trans Fat Index of less than 1%, you are in a good place,” said Kristina Harris Jackson, PhD, RD, OmegaQuant’s Research Director. “There is no real benefit to being at zero.”
Dr. Jackson went on to explain that trans fats don’t only come from industrially produced foods, they also come from meat and dairy products in a form called ‘ruminant trans.’ “If your level hovers around 1%, then it’s possible the ruminant trans fats in your diet might be a contributing factor. The good news is you don’t need to worry about ruminant fats, just the trans fats found in processed foods,” she said.
If your Trans Fat Index is greater than 1% and you don’t eat processed foods currently, then this might be a reflection of trans fats that have mobilized from your fat stores over time. These trans fats are those that have been stored up over time and are likely now leaking out of your fat cells into your red blood cells.
“There isn’t a lot you can do about this,” said Dr. Jackson. “However, it might be smart to just double-check that you have removed any dietary sources of trans fats from your diet. Some baked goods and snacks like microwave popcorn still contain trans fats, so watch out for these.”
Rest assured, over time your Trans Fat Index should continue to go down. In this case, we recommend testing every 6 months to a year to make sure that is indeed the case.
If you have a Trans Fat index above 1% and you do eat processed foods, we recommend you decrease the amount of processed foods in your diet and work toward phasing them out entirely. Make sure you look at labels to see if there are any partially hydrogenated oils and avoid these. These are the trans fats that will negatively impact your health, especially the heart.
The majority of the fatty acids in your report are not intended to guide any major health decisions or dietary changes. With the exception of the Trans Fat index and the Omega-3 Index, the rest of these fatty acids we analyze are part of a new and emerging field of science that is still determining what they mean for health, and how and why we should change them to benefit our health. Before you make any major changes based on these fatty acid results, please consult your healthcare provider to figure out next steps.
Your Omega-3 Index Complete Results
In the Omega-3 Index Complete report analysis, we look at all the fatty acids in whole blood, including plasma, and white and red blood cells. Some fatty acids are affected by diet, genetics and more. However, it is important to remember that not every fatty acid in the body is connected to diet.
In fact, the Trans Fat Index and the Omega-3 Index are unique in that they are closely linked to diet. For the rest, metabolism plays a central role with how much ends up in your blood.
There are five groups of fatty acids, including omega-3, omega-6, cis-monounsaturated, saturated, and trans fatty acids. There are a couple of interesting omega-6 fatty acids like linoleic acid, which is the parent essential fatty acid found in oils like sunflower oil, as well as nuts and seeds. You can also find them in unhealthier sources like processed foods.
Blood levels of linoleic acid are somewhat controversial because some large clinical trials have shown that higher levels predict better outcomes for heart health and diabetes. Given this information, it doesn’t make sense to label all omega-6s as bad. Each fatty acid has a role to play in the body, which is why we think it doesn’t make a lot of sense to call them good or bad. The exception, of course, is trans fats.
Another omega-6 that we at OmegaQuant find interesting is palmitic acid, which is a saturated fat. It is found in palm oil and is very common in the diet. What’s interesting is that if you eat a lot of palm oil or saturated fat your levels won’t increase. That’s because palmitic acid doesn’t have the same relationship in the body that omega-3s do where the more you consume, the more your blood levels increase.
What we have seen is that if you have an excessive amount of carbohydrates in your diet, your palmitic acid levels will increase. In this situation, your body takes the extra carbons out of the carbohydrates to make fat to store for later. And studies have shown that palmitic acid levels are related to diabetes.
While we still don’t have enough evidence on these fatty acids to make recommendations, we think palmitic acid levels will help us understand dietary patterns and metabolism better in the future.
What about saturated fatty acids? Saturated fatty acids in your red blood cell membranes are not related to the saturated fat you consume in your diet. Typically we think of saturated fats increasing the bad fats in our blood. However, bad fats in your blood, i.e., bad cholesterol, have nothing to do with the saturated fatty acids in your blood. LDL cholesterol is a completely different type of fat measurement in your body.
Our tests look specifically at patterns of fatty acids and not the specific amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream. So when you receive your Omega-3 Index Complete report and you notice your saturated fatty acid level is high, please keep in mind that this has no relation to your cholesterol level.
For more information on all of our fatty acid tests, visit our FAQ section to learn more.
INFOGRAPHIC: A Brief History of Omega-3 Research