Episode 4 with Dr. Kristina Jackson
Dr. Jackson describes how diet and supplements can be used to strategically achieve optimal omega-3 levels in our bodies. Many factors, from daily diet to activity level, influence individual omega-3 levels. Testing removes the guess work and enables personal optimization.
- Introduction to OmegaQuant (2:09)
- Omega-3 Index testing (2:47)
- Omega-3 supplements (8:19)
- Optimizing Omega-3 Index test results (12:00)
- Differences between Omega-3 Index and other tests (15:05)
- Optimal Omega-3 Index level (16:48)
- Do some people need more omega-3s? (19:09)
- Importance of omega-3s in pregnancy (21:00)
- Introducing fish and supplements to children (22:39)
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Any statements on this podcast are the opinion of the scientific guest and/or author and have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition, we suggest you consult with your health care professional.
When the omega three index was originally proposed, it was proposed in three different risk factors. And it’s really related to heart disease risk and sudden cardiac death risk. That’s where it was originally came from. And so it was found that people with a level of above 8%, red blood cell level were at a greatly reduced risk of dying from a sudden heart attack. And that was compared to people who had levels less than 4%. And those people were at much, much higher risk.
Hello, and welcome to the science and the story behind omega three, a podcast brought to you by Wiley companies, where we explore one of the most researched nutrients on the planet. Listen in as global omega three experts and researchers translate the science, reveal personal insights and share their stories of discovery while navigating the sea of omega three science. Thanks for joining us today. Now, here’s your host, Greg Lindsey.
Yes, welcome back to another episode of the science and the story behind omega three, where we talk with experts from all over the world. My guest today received her PhD in Nutritional Sciences from Pennsylvania State University in 2013, and completed her training to become a registered dietitian in 2014. That same year, she joined the family business, a mega Kwan analytics as a research associate with a particular focus on omega threes in maternal health, helping create the prenatal dh a test and the mother’s milk, the AJ test on our program today to talk about the work being done out of mega Kwan in the omega three index is Dr. Christina Jackson. Dr. Jackson, thanks so much for being with us today.
Thank you. Happy to be here.
I would love to jump right in, as we have a lot to cover today. First, can you tell me a little bit about a mega quad in what your company does?
Yes, omega quad is a clinical and medical laboratory CLIA certified in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And we specialize in measuring fatty acids, and really any sample type. We work a lot with researchers from the universities and from companies to measure fatty acids in all kinds of things. And then we also have a clinical side that really focuses on measuring omega three fatty acids and dried blood spots.
So as the director of research of a mega client, I guess I’m going to ask you the obvious question, and that is, how much omega three should people be taking?
This is I get asked this all the time? And my answer is always It depends, which is highly unsatisfying. But what’s really great is we have a lot more data and research to guide our decisions on how much omega three to take now. And it really, for me comes back to testing and personalization, and self experimentation, because what works for one person might not work for you. So really, I recommend testing your blood level. So our main test is the omega three index. And that’s what we recommend testing. And the omega three index is the level of EPA and tha, which are the omega threes that are from fish and fish oil. It’s the level of that in, in your red blood cell membrane. So it’s your membranes or cells are made of fat, different kinds of fats, we measure all those different kinds of fats, every time we do a test, and then we take the EPA, D ha level over the total, and we get a percentage. So for omega three index, we’re looking at a goal of having eight to 12% of those fatty acids being EPA vhi. So your mega three index would be 8%. And so typically, if you’re not eating any fish, not taking any fish oil, you’re probably a level three, four, or 5%. And that’s pretty typical in the United States and Canada, in western countries, places where fish is not commonly eaten. And then from that number, I would be able to estimate how much omega three should take for the next basically three months to bump your level up to 678 percent. And we have a calculation that we can do that from from a study that we published with all kinds of researchers. And using that information, we have the personalized blood levels, we have the research to show what kind of dosing we should target and then you retest Because ultimately, that number is really an average number. So the average person to go from four to 8% takes about 1400 milligrams of epmd ha day. That’s really only going to work for half the people probably. So some people need more and some people need less. So always testing your own blood levels. To me is the way to go.
It what would be the sequence of that testing? Is there a time horizon to that?
Yeah. So I would do your baseline test, just test right now, whatever you’re doing diet wise, don’t change it, just test it. And then you find out what that equals in your blood, and then you change it. So if you do your blood tests, you find out you’re at 4%, you can go to our website and put that number into a calculator. And you can say, I want to get to 8%. And they’ll they’ll give you a recommendation, it should be around 1400 milligrams, and it doesn’t matter the form of omega threes, that you would take in a supplement. So that’s a whole nother little issue that we can talk about. So then you would find a supplement where you could get 1400 milligrams a day of EPA and DOJ,
you kind of opened up so I’ll ask the question, because a lot of people prefer to get nutrients from food over supplements. And are they able to do that with omega three?
Yes, of course. So real quick to finish up, once you figure out, I need this many milligrams a day, I need to add to my diet, you can do it through fish or supplements. Absolutely. And we would recommend doing that for at least three months before you retest. It’s a slower marker. So the omega three index is kind of like HB one, C, and that it’s a red blood cell marker, and it moves slowly versus a plasma marker, which would be like a plasma glucose, which is supposed to go up and down throughout the day, a plasma omega three level will also go up and down throughout the day. So the omega three index is that stable month long marker, so it takes months to change it. So you’ll change your diet for three months and retest. So you can do this through a supplement. Or you can do it through fish. So we’ve done some studies on just people who’ve tested with us. And we’ve asked them, How often do you eat fish? Do you take a supplement real basic questions. And we find a very clear pattern, the lower the fish intake, the lower the level, the higher the fish and take the higher the omega three level. And when you add a supplement, typically that is a bump of about two percentage points on the omega three index scale. And so for us, what we saw in the paper that we published, I think it was 2018 is that for people to be close to 8%, just without taking a supplement, they had to be eating at least three servings efficient meal, which was the highest option we gave. And what we really see is it’s probably more like an every other day or every day fish intake. So countries that have an average omega three level of eight or higher, Japan is usually the main when we think about they’re typically Japan and Norway and countries that eat fish, culturally, every day. And so that’s how you will naturally have a high level and you do that throughout your life. And your mom did it throughout her life and these, it all builds. But it’s it’s absolutely possible. It’s kind of a cultural shift, or like a pescetarian diet can get you there as well.
So it I’m not picking on the people in Kansas, but it’s quite possible that people in Kansas might not eat as much fish as people on the coasts, right. So. So I think I think a lot of people turn to omega threes for their supplements. Is there a right way? How would someone select the appropriate supplement to get the appropriate amount of omega three daily intake?
Hmm. So what we found is the dose is really key, it’s one of the most important things. The second most important thing is the form of the supplement. So when we did this study, the first author was Rachel Walker. And we were trying to make a calculator to give this dose like we have this baseline level, how much omega three should we recommend for them to get to an eight to 12%. And the baseline level of omega three, and the dose of omega three were the main predictors, the main things that we need to know. And then the other thing was form. So the form of the omega threes and that is in this in supplements. And in food omega threes are in different forms. In fish, they’re typically phospholipid and triglyceride forms. In some supplements, they are phospholipid, which would be more krill supplements, I believe. Some supplements are triglyceride based. And those older triglyceride based supplements were not very potent, the dose of epmd ha was not very high. So now they have reconstituted triglyceride supplements, which have a higher dose of a BPA and dehp while still being in the triglyceride form. So that’s a sweet spot. And then there’s ethyl esters and ethyl Ester forms are how omega three supplements were originally made to be more highly concentrated. And that’s what low veza is, it’s what a lot of the prescription omega threes came out as because that was just the best way to concentrate the omega threes. Now many high dose omega three supplements that you can find over the counter are ethyl Ester as well. Unfortunately, it’s not standard how it’s labeled on the packaging. So you don’t always know is this an ethyl Ester which like triglyceride form. What I found is typically triglyceride form supplements are advertised as such. It’s not on like the official nutrient Facts label, but it says triglyceride based. So why am I going over all this, the ethyl Ester versions typically take more you need more omega three from the athletes are supplements than you do from the triglyceride and the phospholipid. And that’s what we found in this paper we found to go from four to 8%, five to 8%. For triglyceride form, it would take about 1400 milligrams a day for three months, for an ethyl Ester form, it would take about 2200 milligrams. So that difference of about 700 milligrams a day between the two forms is substantial. And it’s just what I think is going on with ethyl Ester is there’s an issue with whether or not you’ve taken it with food. So the ethyl Ester form is more affected by whether or not you’ve taken it with food. Because if you take it on an empty stomach, or with a very low fat meal, we’ve seen that some people don’t absorb it well at all, in that case. And so there’s just more variability in that absorption. But if you do take it with food, and you do have, you have good fat absorption, it works well for some people. So there’s just more variability, the triglyceride side and phospholipids side don’t seem to be as affected by that fasting and fed state.
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I’m fascinated by the ease of use of the Omega Quan test. So how would I use my omega three index to tailor my diet and supplement plan to optimize my levels?
Exactly what we’ve just been going over, it’s this gives you the information to actually strategically supplement or strategically include fish into your diet, a lot of people casually supplement or casually eat fish, and they think that will give them very good omega three levels. And that’s just not the case. In places where fish is not commonly eaten. And so with supplements, specifically, it’s so much better to know what you’re looking for. So when I’m saying we’re going to do your blood level, put your level in and you and you find them in the calculator, your dose, that’s the dose of EPA, da j, it’s not the dose of fish oil. So this is another like there’s so much confusion in the market that I feel like testing and finding out your dose of EPA and DHT that you need, just cuts through all the noise, but you do have to do a little research. So when you’re looking for the supplement, you have to look on the supplement facts panel, you have to look at what the serving size is, is it one supplement, is it one capsule, is it two capsules, is it one tablespoon, teaspoon, any of that? What is that number, and then what the EPA and the DEA amounts are in that serving size. So if it’s 300, EPA and 200 DHS, then it’s 500 milligrams, and that’s serving. If the serving size is two capsules, then you divide it by half. So you have 250 upnd ha in each capsule, and then you take that number, and you apply it to the dose that we recommended of epmd che. So if you only get 250 and a capsule, and you need to get 1400 I can’t even do that math this quickly. But it’s a lot of pills. And this is what some people think they’re taking more epmd ha than they are because official LPL might say 1000 milligrams, it only has 300, EP and tha fatty acids, because there’s more than just EPA and DOJ in fish oil. So that discrepancy is very important. And doing the testing with the dosing really cuts through the noise and you’re able to find a supplement that meets your needs. And then there are all kinds of other things that people are looking at in their supplements for sustainability. Do you want big or little capsules? You want to take a liquid? Do you care about what fish sources from so many decisions, but the main thing is if the dose is at high enough, it doesn’t, you’re not really going to get the true therapeutic benefit of getting levels up to 8%. And so you do that you find out how much supplement you need to take for three months and then you retest. And if it’s not high enough, it might not be or if it’s too high, then you can adjust. So I’ve often seen to grams is a great place for a lot of people to start, but I’ve seen several people who I consult with who need to be at three grams on a specific supplement how they could try different supplements, maybe if that’s enough alastor maybe they try a triglyceride, and they can go back down to two grams. So this is where your self experimentation and your testing really comes into play.
Can you explain how the omega three index may be different from other omega tests that people have heard of, or maybe have taken,
yes, so the omega three index is one of the main hallmarks of it is that it’s a red blood cell test. And so it’s that slow marker. And it’s not affected by what you just ate. It’s not affected by what you ate yesterday, so you can’t really trick it, it’s really saying, This is what you did over the last three months. So that compared to a plasma level, most of the stuff that we get measured at the doctor’s office is coming from plasma. And plasma is is more affected by what you’ve just eaten, because that’s where all your like nutrients and, and everything come in and are transported throughout the body for really in that plasma portion of your blood. And so it changes more readily than the red blood cell. So that’s one thing and then the other, omega quantz. Specifically, we’re the lab that actually invented the omega three index. And so we have loads of research. And we continue to do research on this number. And the actual value eight to 12%, via our method is what matches to research levels. And other labs might do a red blood cell test. But if they’re not using our method, or they don’t have the same number of fatty acids, they measure, you won’t get exactly the same answer. And so those two things are pretty major when you’re looking at what your results mean, and the context of your results. But there are omega tests all over the place. And you can hopefully figure out what they mean. But if you’re going pretty much anywhere else, you’re not going to be looking for eight to 12%, you’re going to be looking for whatever they’ve set as their targets.
We here level talked about. So is there a normal omega three level? If so what is that level?
Yeah, there is. As far as we know, the the normal omega three level is about four or 5%. In the US, Canada actually just did a representative sampling of their population and did measure the omega three index using our method, and their median level was 4.5%. And in the US, we’ve done this with plasma. And when we convert the plasma level to red blood cell, we estimate it’s around 4.5%, as well. So that’s low. So normal, isn’t that good. We think, in the US, when the omega three index was originally proposed, it was proposed in three different risk factors. And it’s really related to heart disease risk and sudden cardiac death risk, that’s where it was originally came from. And so it was found that people with a level of above 8%, red blood cell level were at a greatly reduced risk of dying from a sudden heart attack. And that was compared to people who had levels less than 4%. And those people were at much, much higher risk. So that 4% mark is another kind of line in the sand, where it’s below that is very low, undesirable between four and 8%, you’re kind of in an intermediate range, better than less than four, it’s a spectrum. So being higher versus lower, even if you’re not fully to 8% is better. But we are really close to that low mark for the average level for the population. And that that’s really probably the focus of like public health, and supporting fish intakes or current fish intake recommendations are for about two servings a week, being at about two servings a week, we think would get people to about five or 6%. So that’d be good. That’d be a big step. And plus eating it as fish, you get all other kinds of benefits as well. So from the public health perspective, getting the low end of people up a little higher is very valuable. From a health optimization perspective, kind of an individual perspective. If you’re going to supplement I would do it so that you’re actually getting enough to feel that benefit of any percent.
Are there any groups and I think maybe elite athletes, are there any groups that might need more omega three than other groups?
Yeah, that is a great question. I do think we do see with elite athletes, they tend to be low, we’ve seen that they can be higher at the beginning of the season and then lower at the end. And part of this is in omega threes are involved in in the inflammation processing and healing process and exercise can be very, very inflammatory to your body. So that makes sense. If athletes are good about their their diet or supplementation, they’re able to avoid that drop. And so they might need extra or they might have a level of supplementation that’s good for their offseason and then once they’re in season, it needs to be a little bit higher, because that you’re going to have to counterbalance that drop off. But really, it’s there’s so much individual variation. That large groups, it’s hard to really predict who’s going to respond well to supplementation, or who’s going to respond well to diet here. And I think the omega threes you get to your diet are better absorbed in general. And if you’re kind of, if that’s a really typical thing, then it’s, it’s less, it’s easier to forget your supplementation than to forget to eat a meal, and it happens to have fish in it. And so I really think I see the individual variation happening in any large group. But people who are in volved, in things that may increase inflammation chronically, so potentially, also some disease states that are chronic inflammation, you might need a little bit more omega three, to maintain your levels or to get your levels up.
As a mom, omega three levels in children, do you have any advice or thoughts around feeding fish to children or feeding a supplement to children? Yeah,
I do. So another area where omega threes are really vital nutrients is the area of pregnancy and breastfeeding. And I don’t know, if women actually need more omega three, it’s just really important to get enough omega three in those times, and the body is using it and the body is actually doing all these things to make more gha, specifically available to the fetus, it’s taking it out of your fat stores for a little bit better at making it in your body. The placenta is pulling dhk specifically across for the baby to develop the main portion of your brain and eyes. And so it’s it’s very important for the pregnancy part. And then when you’re past that into the breastfeeding lactation stage, mom’s dhk status, her blood levels are also represented in her milk. And so your milk levels will change with the diet as well. We’ve seen that quite a bit. And we actually do test breast milk levels at omega qwant, we do a mother’s milk tha test. And then we also do a specific pregnancy test for moms called the prenatal VHA test. So you can test your blood levels for DHH specifically, which is really the fatty acid that we see in pregnancy as being the most predictive of outcomes and really represents omega three status. And so you can test those and see, am I getting enough or am I just being depleted because mom gets very, very depleted in da j, if she’s not eating any of it. So then with lactation and having higher DHT levels, that gets into baby and then the baby’s blood levels are higher, we’ve seen this in the research over and over again. So that’s a really good thing, then when babies starts to eat, you can start to introduce fish, I mean, fish should be a very easy thing for a child to eat texture wise, all of this comes down to what you’re, you know, you have a lot of control over what you present to your to your kid. And the whole picky eater type of thing is not my area of expertise. So there are these that are all over that. And I would recommend going and finding those if you need ways to like hide food or slowly introduce it. Salmon tends to be fairly mild in flavor. And making it you know, back sometimes put brown sugar on high salmon. So that makes us a little sugar to make the medicine go down. It’s really just how it’s with any food and how you introduce it to the child, the earlier you do it, the more they’re used to it not something weird, if you can, the really oily fish can have a difficult smell sometimes. So if that’s really going to turn you or your kid off, then maybe don’t start with that. And also, it’s been estimated you have to have a kid try a food 11 times on average before they can really know if they like it or not. So sticking with it, continue to have it heating it yourself. Very good for fish and take when it comes to supplements for kids, I feel that there are plenty of supplements that are now designed for kids. As far as dosing goes, we typically wouldn’t dose kids as high as adults, kids tend to have lower omega three index levels that we’ve seen whether or not that’s just normal because everyone has low levels in the US basically. So their kids then do versus what it looks like kids in other countries have their levels also just lower. And then as they get older, they get they build up more and more. So we we kind of look at for kids and omega three index score of about 6% we think is a good place to be versus 8%. Not that eight to 12 is bad or harmful for kids. Just maybe don’t need to be all the way up there yet. And then for supplements there. I’m probably not the best person to describe what supplements are available. I know there are things like var liens which is kind of smoothie type of supplement. There are other supplements that have just like good flavors. And I don’t really know how good gummies are, I think they’re probably getting better. But sometimes gummies can have like, almost no omega three, and it’s like,
do you really need to do that, I don’t know, I would rather get a little bit more potent source. There’s also cod liver oil, which is the most classic supplement that was given to kids. I mean, that’s the spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, that’s, that can be fairly potent. They do deodorize a lot of the liquid supplements now and liquid supplements can be very potent, you get a lot of omega three and a very small dose and you don’t have big pills to swallow. I love liquids, I take a liquid. So for kids, that is also much better. I can’t imagine trying to get kids to really take pills or capsules, but I know people have. So yeah, so getting fish in the diet. If you want to have a supplement on hand, that’s great. As far as like wanting to test your kids, you can I have never yet because I don’t really want to prick my kid’s fingers yet. But other people who have who are, you know, trying to use omega threes and more therapeutic ways will test blood levels.
With Dr. Jackson, as we wind down our time today, do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share around omega three or omega three testing? Um,
I just like it because it lets you know if you’re getting what you paid for, if you’re going to pay for a supplement, you might as well find out if it’s getting in your body. And I think it’s well worth the testing costs and the knowledge and then you find whatever works for you. And you don’t have to test this frequently. In my opinion, you just it’s kind of one of the only ways you can know you’re really absorbing it.
Christina, thank you so much for being with us today and mega quants, such a such an amazing company. And I would I would encourage our listeners to go to your website. Could you please share that website address?
Yes, we’re at omega kwan.com o m e ga QNT. Well, thank
you so much again, Dr. Jackson for being here. And listeners thank you and as always be healthy, be well and fight the good fight.
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Any statements on this podcast or the opinion of the scientific guest and or author and have not yet been evaluated by the FDA. The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition we suggest you consult with your healthcare professional.