Gene Smart health test rates omega-3 fatty acid levels

by Chris Woolston
(The Los Angeles Times - September 07, 2009)

The acids, naturally found in fish, have been shown to help promote healthy heart rhythms, lower blood pressure and prevent blood clots.
Heart health is a numbers game. Total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides -- you practically need a personal data assistant to know how worried you should be.

Now some experts want to add yet another number to the mix: the "omega-3 index," a measure of the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood.

Omega-3 fatty acids, naturally found in fish, have a steadying influence on the entire circulatory system. Two of them in particular -- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) -- have been shown to help control blood pressure, prevent blood clots and encourage healthy heart rhythms.

Unless you're eating salmon with a side of herring for dinner every night, you might wonder if you have enough DHA and EPA in your blood to fully protect your heart.

You could keep wondering, or you could spend $149 for a new at-home blood test.

The Gene Smart Omega 3 Index Heart Health Test, sold online, measures DHA and EPA levels and converts them into an "index" number (specifically, the percentage of fatty acids in red blood cells that are either DHA or EPA.) Users are instructed to collect a drop of blood from a finger after fasting for 10 hours overnight. The blood is then sent to a lab in a provided envelope. Results arrive in about two weeks.

According to the company, an index score of 8% or higher means that a person has enough omega-3s for optimal heart health. A score of 4% or lower is said to be risky. For customers who want to boost their score, the Gene Smart company sells fish oil capsules containing 1.2 grams of DHA and EPA per daily serving. A month's supply costs about $25.

The claims

The Gene Smart website ( says that the omega-3 index is a "stronger predictor of heart disease risk than cholesterol." More than 30 years of research have established the protective powers of omega-3s, says Floyd Chilton, the company's chief scientific adviser and a professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Chilton is also the author of the Gene Smart Diet, a book published earlier this year.

"Given the protective power of omega-3s, everyone should know their levels," Chilton says. Simply eating fish at least two times a week, as recommended by the American Heart Assn., may not be enough, he adds, because people metabolize fatty acids differently thanks to differences in their genes. That's why the company is called Gene Smart. With the guidance of the test, he claims, people can make sure they're getting enough omega-3s to match their genetic needs.

Read the rest of the article here at The Los Angeles Times.

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