Omega-3 fatty acids are touted as helping in preventing heart conditions. The actual levels of omega-3 in the general population is unknown – until now with the release of data from Statistics Canada. They found that more than 9 in 10 Canadians had an Omega-3 Index level indicating that they may be at risk for coronary heart disease.
In 2012 and 2013, the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) measured red blood cell fatty acid levels, including omega-3 fatty acids and the Omega-3 Index (the sum of eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]). The levels reported are as a percentage by weight of total red blood cell fatty acids.
Blood concentrations of EPA and DHA are a strong reflection of dietary intake. The Omega-3 Index is considered to be a good indicator of the potential risk for coronary heart disease mortality. Results of the 2012 and 2013 CHMS indicated that 2.6% of the population were considered at low risk for coronary heart disease, while 54.6% were at intermediate risk and 42.7% were at high risk. This means that more than 9 in 10 Canadians are at risk of a heart attack.
The risks of coronary heart disease associated with Omega-3 Index levels are as follows (as a percentage by weight of total red blood cell fatty acids):
- high risk (less than 4%),
- intermediate risk (4% to 8%) and
- low risk (greater than 8%).
Results on Omega-3 Index levels show that the average Omega-3 Index for Canadian adults was 4.5%. Males averaged 4.3%, which was significantly lower than females at 4.7%, which means men are more at risk than women.
How can you increase your omega-3 fatty acids? A number of factors, especially diet and supplements, can affect your levels.
Canadians who reported eating fatty fish within the last month had a significantly higher Omega-3 Index at 5.0% compared with 3.8% for those who did not report consuming any fatty fish.
In addition, Canadians who reported taking a supplement containing omega-3 within the last month, had a significantly higher Omega-3 Index at 5.9% compared with 4.3% for those who did not report consuming this type of supplement. Most supplements are derived from fish sources. For those who wish to not have a animal-sourced supplement, there are supplements available sourced from plants.
Consuming more omega-3 fatty acids, either through eating more fish or taking supplements, can decrease your risk of coronary heart disease.
Source: Statistics Canada