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Omega-3 Index: The “Cholesterol” Test for the 21st Century

omega-3 index omega-3 levels Omega-3 Index Project

5 min. read


Optimal blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are a worldwide rarity. Only places where fish is consumed virtually every day (like Japan and Greenland) are average Omega-3 Index levels in the desirable range (8%-12%). In the US, over 95% of the population have suboptimal levels of omega-3.


What does this imply about the health of these low Omega-3 Index populations? It means higher disease burden and shorter lifespans. 

What is the Omega-3 Index?

The Omega-3 Index test is a blood test requiring only 1 drop of blood that is collected onto specially-treated filter paper and mailed to the laboratory for analysis. It is the amount of EPA+DHA in the red blood cell membrane (omega-3s like to hang out in membranes all over the body) and it’s expressed as a percent. The optimal range is 8% to 12%, but most adults not eating a lot of fish have levels between 3% and 6%.

omega-3 index test scale low average optimal omeg-3 levels

 Learn more about the Omega-3 Index.


How can I raise my Omega-3 Index?

Why are most people’s Omega-3 Index levels so low? Very simply because the dietary intake of EPA+DHA is too low. The only way to raise the Omega-3 Index is to eat more omega-3s, whether from fish and seafood or from EPA+DHA supplements. The latter can be oils derived from fish, krill, calamari, green lip mussel and/or certain strains of algae.

If you choose to take a supplement, it’s important to take them with food for best absorption. Most people need to take 500 to 1000 mg of EPA+DHA (not just “oil”) per day – and do so for several months – to get into the desirable range.

Click here  to learn more about krill and krill oil.


Is the Omega-3 Index test the new "cholesterol" test?

In many ways, the Omega-3 Index test can be likened to a cholesterol test. Both tests measure levels of compounds in the blood that are known “risk factors” for major chronic conditions like heart disease.

A high cholesterol level is bad whereas a low Omega-3 Index is bad. Another similarity is that because you can’t “feel” a high cholesterol level or a low Omega-3 Index, the only way to know your status is to do a blood test. But here the similarities end.


There are two major differences between cholesterol and the Omega-3 Index:

 1) In order to optimize your cholesterol level you typically need to take a drug (like statins, which can have significant side effects), whereas to optimize your Omega-3 Index all you need to do is change your diet and/or start taking omega-3 supplements which are completely safe; and

2) The Omega-3 Index is a better predictor of risk for heart disease and even premature death than is cholesterol. This was the conclusion of a major study we recently published from the Framingham Heart Study. Briefly, we found that people (average age 66) with the highest Omega-3 Index levels were 35% less likely to die from any cause in the ensuing 7 years than people with the lowest Omega-3 Index levels. But the same was not true of cholesterol – there was no difference in risk for death in people who had the lowest vs the highest cholesterol levels.

This is not to say that maintaining a healthy cholesterol level is not important – it absolutely is – but if you or your doctor are going to monitor your cholesterol levels, then you should also measure your Omega-3 Index.  

In the late 20th century, the medical world focused on “knowing your number” and by that they meant your cholesterol level. Now, well into the 21st century, a new marker deserves your attention – the Omega-3 Index. 

Learn more about how Aker BioMarine is spreading the word.



Bill HarrisThis post was written by Dr. Bill Harris, President of Omega Quant, in partnership with Aker BioMarine. To learn more about Omega Quant, visit http://omegaquant.com/.