South African Omega-3 Index Experience 2012

To date only 312 South African’s have undergone the Omega-3 Index (test) to assess their red blood cell membrane for the fatty acid content.

Data from the Physician’s Health Study identified low Omega-3 level or high Omega-6: Omega-3 ratios as HIGH risk for subsequent cardiac events.  As the Omega-3 content increased in the cell membrane (increase in the Omega-3 Index) the risk for cardiac death fell dramatically. Healthy Omega-3 Index appears to be > 8% and is directly influenced by your diet.

South Africa has one of highest incidence of heart disease in the world.  Per 100 000 population death rates per year are approximately 700.  This is exactly the same death rate per 100 000 population due to HIV related deaths.

Obesity and overweight are of epidemic proportions in South Africa coupled with poor exercise and eating habits pretty much accounting for the high death rate from cardiovascular disease.

Up to 60% of the SA population are either obese or overweight with the demographics spread across all social classes.  In SA the high daily intake of energy dense calories from carbohydrate (60-70% of daily calories) and the high use of polyunsaturated vegetable oils (sunflower etc.)  together with a high intake of trans fat from “fast foods” is probably responsible for the “state-of-the-nation”.

The omega-3 (EPA and DHA) content; the omega-6 (AA): omega-6 to 3 ratio (omega-3 index) of the RBC membranes of South African’s tested pretty much summarizes the problem of our society with very poor levels of omega-3 and high levels of toxic omega-6 (Arachidinic Acid AA being the most common omega-6) recorded.

High levels of saturated fatty acids (SFA) with only 1% of individuals tested having favourable levels of SFA are an obvious concern and reflect POOR dietary practise.  Finally only 27% of people tested have low (<1.3%) trans fat confirming the really toxic heated oils used; the high intake of margarines and cookies cakes and biscuits all containing higher amounts of trans fat.

So how does the Cardiologydoc fare in the “state-of-affairs”. 

I eat an uncomplicated “low carbohydrate” (100 g/d) Eco-Atkins diet (2500 calories per day) with 55% calories from fat; 35% from protein and 10% calories from carbohydrate.  I eat high proportion of “whole food” fish with daily sardine/ pilchards as a snack and oily fish 3 times per week (salmon) as a main meal with stir fry and salad.  I take daily dairy (full cream yoghurt); moderate egg (10 per week) and small amounts of cheese and no more than 2 portions of 80 g mixed raw nuts and seeds (almonds; macadamia; sun flower seeds and pumpkin seeds) per day and occasional small amounts of biltong & dry wors.  I recently recorded the following Omega-3 Index:

I have started to collect my own database of Omega-3 index and can confidently state that the test absolutely reflects your dietary mix of fats. The good news is that you can influence your Omega-3 Index with attention to some simple ground rules:

  1. Stick to “whole foods” rich in omega-3
  2. Don’t use the omega-6 containing vegan oils (sunflower, peanut, corn, soya, cottonseed) – throw them away……
  3. If you use oil; use cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil and try not to heat it (use non stick frying pans)
  4. Use canola oil (better omega-3: 6) in moderation
  5. Eat omega-3 enriched eggs
  6. Keep raw nuts and seeds in moderation and use macadamia nuts for fat calories (avoid peanuts as a bean and cashews as high in carbohydrate)
  7. Have a tin of sardine or pilchards on most days drained of oil as this is often cottonseed oil
  8. Absolutely avoid all fried foods (in oil) and “fast foods” (deep-fried chicken etc)
  9. Keep intake of green leafy vegetables and yellow, green, red pigmented vegetables high (natural anti oxidants)
  10. Keep dairy in moderation depending on your diet type (full cream; fat-free; low-fat and low-carbohydrate)
  11. Fruit intake according to your diet preference but low-glycaemic (citrus) and rich in pigments (berries) and stay off fruit juice (very high glycaemic-index)
  12. Animal protein/fat and grass-fed organ meat in moderation probably no more that 1 to 2 x 200-250 g portions per week
  13. Keep away from cakes; cookies; pies and pastry’s (tons of trans fat)

With a recent publication indicating the really POOR quality of “over-the-counter” Omega-3 supplements in South Africa I am tending to get more of my omega-3 intake for “whole foods”.

This study demonstrated in ~ 50 of the OTC preparations of Omega-3 in SA more than 50% of the preparations contained < 90% of the advertised EPA/ DHA content and >50% contained significant content of rancid oil.  The only GOOD news was the mecury content was very low…….

In summary:

The Omega-3 Index has a high correlation to your dietary discipline and is predictable for an individual (thanks to my dear wife for her permission to publish her result).

Currently we are NOT doing well in SA as only about 1 in 10 individuals reflect a healthy RBC membrane for fatty acid content which is key to cell stability and optimal cellular function. 

Blessings Cardiologydoc

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