New Blood Test Measures Omega-3 Levels

There’s no shortage of research affirming the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids… but until now it hasn’t been all that easy to learn whether you get enough from your diet or should buy the supplements. It’s not a casual question — high-quality fish oil comes with a wince-worthy price tag, and it may be one supplement you can afford to do without if you are an enthusiastic eater of cold-water fish, walnuts or any of the many other foods that are rich in this vitally important nutrient.

So I was intrigued to learn that there is now a home-test kit you can use to determine whether you have sufficient blood levels of these fabulous fats. Called the “HS-Omega-3 Index” blood test, it measures blood levels of the two heart-healthy fats found in fish, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

How the Test Works

I did the home test and found that it was actually very easy. All it requires is a quick swab of your fingertip with the enclosed alcohol wipe and then a prick (it didn’t hurt) with the lancet. You have to allow blood to collect on your fingertip until there’s enough to fall as a drop onto the square of blotting paper, and then you send this paper to the lab in the enclosed postage-paid return mailer that you can drop right in a mailbox. It took less than five minutes to prepare my sample, and in less than two weeks, I received my results via e-mail in a special password-protected account.

I spoke with William Harris, PhD, founder of OmegaQuant, LLC, the company that produces the test I tried. He told me that the company’s goal is to provide a standard for assessing omega-3 blood levels because “this is a risk factor you can do something about and, though people are increasingly aware of the need for omega-3 fatty acids, few know what their omega-3 level actually is,” he said. Dr. Harris is director of the Cardiovascular Health Research Center at Sanford Research/USD in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and is a research professor of medicine at the Sanford School of Medicine.

Is It Worth the Price?

How did I do? On a scale of “undesirable” (4% or less)… through “intermediate” (6%)… to “desirable” (8% or more), my result was a very satisfying 13.1%. This measure reflects the percentage of EPA and DHA fatty acids in my red blood cells — and it’s not altogether surprising that my score was excellent, since I supplement with two teaspoons of fish oil daily.

I do have some concerns about this test kit and other products like it, however. For one thing, Dr. Harris acknowledged that it’s not yet known exactly how much EPA+DHA any particular person should take to achieve the desirable target. At $200, the home-test kit doesn’t come cheap, but Dr. Harris told me that since medical professionals pay a wholesale price, you may be able to get the test done for less by your doctor or at a lab with your doctor’s prescription. However, because the standards of measurement have yet to be clinically validated, it’s unlikely to be covered by your health insurer.

So is this money worth spending? If the decision whether to have this test comes down to dollars and cents, I am not sure it adds up. On the other hand, if it shows that you are in serious need of supplementation and it gets you focused on that, it may turn out to be invaluable.