Health: Measure your coronary risk with Omega-3 index

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in North America. Almost half of all U.S. adults have some type of cardiovascular disease, and in Canada, a woman dies of heart disease every 20 minutes. Heart disease is not often a disease of chance or bad luck. For the most part, it is a lifestyle disease and there are things we can do to prevent it.

The fact that omega-3 fatty acids can help make the difference between life and death has been a frequent topic. But don’t take our word for it. Take a test and find out for yourself. That’s exactly what we are doing.

The omega-3 Index is a scientifically validated test to check your risk for heart disease. The test measures the amount of EPA and DHA, both omega-3 fatty acids, and expresses them as a percentage of the total amount of fatty acids in your red blood cells. Anything less than 4 per cent indicates high risk. Between 4-8 per cent signals moderate risk. Above eight per cent means low risk.

EPA and DHA are “good” fatty acids. They promote cardiovascular health, and are also needed for brain function, mood and joint health. There are other fatty acids in our blood, too. Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Too much omega-6 can elevate your blood pressure and risk of blood clots that cause heart attacks and stroke. While omega-3s fight inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease, omega-6 fatty acids are proinflammatory. The goal is to have ample omega-3 without an excessive amount of omega-6.

Nearly all of us are failing. A Statistics Canada survey shows that 97 per cent of Canadians are below the desirable eight per cent level and the average Canadian adult is at 4.5 per cent – barely above the high-risk zone. Even when eating fish twice weekly, 93 per cent of Canadian are below eight per cent. Researchers found that 95 per cent of participants in an American cohort suffered even lower levels of omega-3s. A stunning 90 per cent of those taking fish oil supplements didn’t score well either. Why? Because fish oils are hard for our water-based bodies to absorb.

Even if we all consumed more omega-3 fatty acids in our diet, there remains that problem of absorption – the same problem most omega-3 supplements face. Our liver and pancreas help convert fish oils into monoglyceride fats for our bodies to absorb them. Not all of us do this conversion well, especially if we are health compromised.

Researchers in Canada have developed a solution, a predigested monoglyceride fish oil that is three times more absorbable than standard fish oil supplements. It’s called MaxSimil, and studies have shown it to result in higher Omega-3 Index scores than other forms of fish oil.

We are putting ourselves to the test. Our baseline Omega-3 Index scores are in: Diana at 5.47 per cent and Giff at 5.56 per cent. Barely acceptable, both of us. And this result despite good diets plentiful in fish. We’re now on a firm regimen of “the perfect omega” containing MaxSimil. We’ll let you know the results of our follow-up tests soon. Visit for more information.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones can be reached at