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.
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)
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