Thursday, 23 November 2017

How to Improve Your Heart Health Via Your Omega-3 Index

How to Improve Your Heart Health Via Your Omega-3 Index - ways to improve your diet, how to get more omega-3, oily fish | Not Dressed As Lamb
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Earlier this year I had a wake-up call where my health was concerned. Not a diagnosis or any sort of illness thankfully - it was one of those things you get yourself tested for that you think "I can't be deficient in that, surely...?"

In the same way that people get their cholesterol levels tested, I had my omega-3 index tested as part of the Seven Seas #TrueAge campaign. I wrote a "before" post back in June just after I'd started a trial to see if I could improve my omega-3 index. And oh BOY did it need improving.

Just to recap:

Omega-3, the much-discussed essential fatty acid found in oily fish, helps you to maintain good health as you get older. Its main benefits are to the heart, vision and the brain. The university professor who tested my blood sample explains the reasons for testing your omega-3 index:

"The omega-3 fatty acid content of red blood cells (the fatty acids are in the membrane of the cells) is considered to be a good indicator of how much omega-3s are being eaten. The omega-3s of greatest interest are EPA and DHA.

"A higher intake of EPA and DHA, and so a greater content in red blood cells, is linked with better health, including heart health. This is because the amount of EPA and DHA in red blood cells mirrors the amount in tissues like the heart. Researchers have defined the omega-3 index as the combined amounts of EPA plus DHA in red blood cells and suggest that this index be used as an indicator of heart health, just like blood cholesterol or blood pressure might be used."

So you can understand my desire to improve my index if it turned out to be a bit low. Which it did...

My original results

As someone who feels she eats a balanced and healthy diet (just with the naughty things on top), I was horrified to find out just how low my omega-3 levels were. A healthy omega-3 index is considered to be 8, and anything under 4 is considered to be dangerously low.

Mine was a worrying 3.7 (have a read of the full post about my low omega-3 levels to get the full picture) so I was in the "dangerously low" category.

And when you're 45, starting to feel aches and pains more often than not and finding it difficult to keep weight off and not sleeping through the night and all those other things that surprise you as you approach midlife [aaaaaaaand breathe...], the words "dangerously low" for ANYTHING set off alarm bells in your head.

It's because I feel like it's much, much harder to spring back from health problems as a midlifer. So the last thing I wanted was to be facing health problems that I could have easily prevented, but it seems those potential health problems were staring me in the face.

CATHERINE'S SAMPLE TAKEN AFTER JUST OVER FOUR MONTHS OF DAILY USE OF AN OMEGA-3 SUPPLEMENT GAVE AN OMEGA-3 INDEX OF 6.8, A GREAT IMPROVEMENT FROM 3.7

Results after 4 months

At the beginning of the test I sent off a blood sample, and after four months (we extended it to four to be sure I was keeping up my new habits!) I sent off another blood sample. The results were, in a nutshell, GREATLY improved:

"Fatty acids have been measured in Catherine's red blood cells prior to beginning a period of daily use of omega-3 supplements and again after just over four months. An omega-3 index of 4 or below would be a cause for concern, while an index of 8 or above would be a good sign.

"Catherine's first sample gave an omega-3 index of 3.7. This is (just below) the threshold for concern and indicated that she was not eating enough EPA and DHA.

"The sample taken after just over four months of daily use of an omega-3 supplement gave an omega-3 index of 6.8, a great improvement from 3.7. Using the supplement has taken Catherine's index well out of the range that indicates cause for concern. The improvement in her omega-3 index brings it much closer to the desired value of 8 and would be associated with improved heart health. A great result."

- Professor Philip Calder, Professor of Nutritional Immunology, University of Southampton

To be honest I don't whether I'm more proud of myself or more relieved - both, I guess. As I mentioned earlier it's one of those "hidden" health issues that most of us don't really think about. You can think you're eating healthily, but in actual fact you're highly deficient in certain vitamins and minerals essential for good overall health and a strong immune system.

I strongly believe in the expression "you are what you eat", and my diet needed sorting.

How I improved my Omega-3 index

It was remarkably easy to improve my omega-3 levels. A few extra things introduced into (or quantities of increased in) my diet, plus one tablet a day, were the only changes I made.

Here are the easy, simple changes I made over the course of the four months:

  • I took one Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil Maximum Strength Capsules a day
  • I added two teaspoons of chia seeds (the highest combined plant source of omega-3, fibre and protein) to my daily smoothie or porridge
  • I ate oily fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel, etc.) at least every other day
  • I ate a small handful of nuts (usually macadamias, pecans, walnuts and pistachios) every day
  • I upped my intake of green vegetables high in omega-3 such as kale, broccoli and spinach and ate at least one of them with my main meal every day if possible

It really wasn't that difficult at all. These are all foods I eat and enjoy anyway, I simply made sure I was eating them more regularly.

The important thing to remember here wasn't just that I wanted to improve what I eat and include more of these foods in my diet for the trial, but that I wanted to improve my diet - and therefore my health - permanently. Like when you hear women say they want to get fit in order to get into a bikini for the summer, getting fit and healthy should be a permanent life choice, not just for your summer holiday.

I've still a little way to go, but I'm almost at the magic 8 index level. I'm confident it will get there with my new regime and strictness about what I include in my diet.

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Other diet and health improvements I've made

Improving my omega-3 index has triggered some other improvements in my lifestyle and diet choices I'm glad to say. You know how it's easier to keep a house tidy when it's already tidy (something else I'm working on)?

Well, improving your diet in other areas is easier when you're in the right mindset and have been improving one particular area.

Inspired by The Sequinist's amazing results, I've given up sugar and am currently on week 7 of my self-imposed #NoSugar regime. I'm not being crazy-obsessive - if I'm offered a mains dish that's been made with some sort of sugar ingredient then I won't refuse to eat it, but I'm sworn off all cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream, processed foods, etc. at least until I've got my fitness and general health back on track.

And then I won't deny myself the odd treat, but it's true what they say about losing the desire to eat sugary foods. I've definitely lost the urge to stuff every dessert in my mouth that happens to pass under my nose or every chocolate bar that keeps looking at me when I open my parents' fridge (I keep telling my mum that "those Crunchies are looking at me again, mum") - so we shall see if I've got this sugar obsession under control at long last.

It's funny how one small change - the need to up my omega-3 levels - to improve my health in one area affects how you feel about the need to improve it in other areas too.

And to be fair, adding chia seeds to smoothies and taking a cod liver oil tablet every day isn't exactly difficult, is it...?

HOW ARE YOU LOOKING TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH, AND IN WHAT AREAS? DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE ENOUGH OMEGA-3 IN YOUR DIET?

COMMENT BELOW, OR TAKE IT TO TWITTER @NOTLAMB (USE THE HASHTAG #TRUEAGE)

Catherine

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How to Improve Your Heart Health Via Your Omega-3 Index - ways to improve your diet, how to get more omega-3, oily fish | Not Dressed As Lamb

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Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Seven Seas (click here for my full disclosure). All content is original, however, and opinions are my own and 100% honest.
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9 comments

  1. My son will be so proud of you, C :-)))) For Lucas (he is doing body building) Omega 3 is part of his daily health care for several years now! Also nuts, almonds, broccoli and brussels sprouts are on his daily menu. Any questions? Ask Lucas (he is a certified fitness instructor BTW!)

    xx
    Annette | Lady of Style

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    1. Wow that must be so handy having him in the family Annette! And if he's body building and a PT then omega-3 MUST be what we all need I reckon...!! x

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  2. Oh wow. That’s so interesting. I was talking to my beauty therapist yesterday about this because I’ve had a bit of eczema around my eyes and my lip line. She suggested all of the green foods you mentioned plus an omega supplement. I already add chia seeds to yogurt and berries and I eat loads of nuts but I think I’ll go and get some supplements too. I must say you’re looking particularly glossy and glowing right now. Thank you for sharing and for all of the useful info xxxxxx Liz www.whatlizzyloves.com xxxxx

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    1. Aww thank you for the lovely compliment Liz! Amazing how what you eat affects EVERYTHING, isn't it...?! x

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  3. I love your health posts! Chia seeds are little powerhouses, aren't they? I stick them on my porridge every day. I will look into your supplements as well, because I'm not eating as much fish as I used to. I read an article a while ago about how the Vikings used to eat cod liver oil every day to ward off disease and sickness; they even ate it fermented. It clearly has big benefits. How amazing your levels increased so quickly too!

    I'm so proud of you on your no sugar regime. It is SO tough at first, but you stop missing it and the addictive pull starts to be replaced by other things that are healthier. xxx

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    1. OMG that's so interesting about the Vikings... fermented?!! Not sure I like the sound of that 🤢🤢 thank you hon x

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  4. Well it's obvious what you're doing is working, you are glowing!
    I must admit after reading this I'm a bit worried that I should have my omega 3 checked. Looking at your new & improved diet makes me realise I'm not eating as well as I used to. I've also been skipping meals so perhaps I should try a supplement? These wake up calls are catching! 😉Great post Catherine, thank you xx

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    1. Oooooh naughty girl, you know how skipping meals is bad! ;) But yes, sometimes it's hard to get enough of what we need every single day so the high strength cod liver oil capsules I took certainly made a big difference. And thank you!! xx

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  5. It's around this time of our lives that we really start noticing the little aches and pains isn't it? I was having the craziest palpitations recently so I started taking an iron supplement (I know my iron is low but tend not to do much about it!) and they've almost stopped altogether! I think I'm more aware of my body now that I quit alcohol six weeks ago. I cut down on the sugar too but I feel I need at least something naughty to have every once in a while lol! I think I'll take a leaf out of your book though, and look into taking Omega-3 too!
    Suzy xx
    www.suzyturner.com

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