Take a look in the mirror for the sake of your heart

Michael Roizen, MD03/28/17

Two confessions:  I am a medical nerd—I love reading medical articles and translating them for my patients. I even read medical articles during time outs at Cavaliers and during inning changes at Indians games (Yes, I am a part season ticket holder at each, have seen all the entertainment routines during time-outs many times, and love reading medicine more).  Second confession, rarely do I change what I advise patients until I see at least four scientific studies involving humans, confirming that a change in routine is warranted. 

A Look in the Mirror

To help explain why your heart wants you to look in the mirror, I’m sharing an excerpt from the new book I co-authored, AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip:

Your morning is a whirlwind. You wash your face, fix your hair, floss your teeth for two minutes after a twenty-second brushing of your teeth (at least that’s how you should be doing it, while you practice balancing on one foot), make the breakfast smoothies, get the kids going, brew the beverage, peek at your phone to see the status of Barbara’s sick pup, on and on. And, then you do this (maybe five times): you check yourself in the mirror.

How does your hair look? Your makeup? Your clothes? Your skin? Your hair again? Everything? You assess, you make changes, you assess again, and you go on about your day. You perform this very basic test throughout the day because (1) you care about your appearance and how you project yourself to the outside world, and (2) nobody likes buzzing about the day with a peppercorn-decorated incisor.

What’s the point?

Every day of your life, you perform a diagnostic test on yourself to evaluate your current state of affairs, because you inherently know there’s a value to the process of self-evaluation. You assess, you evaluate, you adjust.  Then you repeat as necessary.

But in health care you may not want to know your data because you dread seeing your doctor or measuring your blood pressure, or you simply don’t visit the doctor.  But avoiding the metaphorical mirror means that you’ll never notice when you have lipstick smudged across your face. That is, you’ll never know if something is off—or how badly it’s off—if you haven’t taken the time to look.  Hiding from the truth doesn’t mean the truth doesn’t exist.

The Research

I reviewed several prospective and randomized studies, which found that an increased amount of EPA and DHA from diet and/or from supplements (again, I think DHA is the more important) decreased cardiovascular events by about 18 percent. (1-5) Even more impressive is when you look at the data based on the level of omega-3s in your red blood cell membrane (RBC membrane), called an omega-3 index.  An index above 8 percent was associated with greater than a 75 percent reduction in cardiovascular risk compared to an index of less than 4 percent (a higher index means there are more omega-3s in your red blood cells). 

Omega-3 index as risk factor

Figure 1

Omega-3 index as a risk factor for coronary heart disease (Am J Clin Nutr,(2))

Even better, like your appearance (the mirror) or your blood pressure or your blood sugar, you can now easily measure your omega-3 index reliably (6).  Do it. 

I decided it was important to measure my omega-3 index even though I eat two or three servings of salmon a week and take 600 mg of omega-3 DHA supplements each day.  The test kit was simple – just a pin prick of your finger, put that drop of blood on a special piece of blotter paper, mail it in and receive the result in a few days by email.  You’ll want to get a reading now and share the results with your doctor.  They will determine the necessary steps needed to get your level into the optimal range of the omega-3 index. Despite my twice a week salmon habit and the supplements I take, my level was just short of optimal at 7.98 percent. But I always go for the optimal for aging according to my RealAge, so I want a percent or two above 8 percent. By looking in my “mirror,” I was able to see an opportunity to increase my omega-3 level. Moving forward, I will increase my omega-3 supplements to 800 mg a day, and take another measurement in 3-4 months. 

The bottom line:

1.      Omega-3s are a healthy choice;

2.      Take a moment to look in the mirror, take the Omega-3 Index test and determine if a change in your daily routine is needed.

To make sure you get an appropriate amount of omega-3s in your diet from food or from supplements, get the simple the Omega-3 index.  Ask your health care provider about it – they can find out more at omegaquant.com or KnowYourO.com.)  I challenge you – aim for more than 8 percent!

Thanks for reading. 

 

References

1.    Alexander, D., Miller, P., Van Elswyk, M., Kuratko, C., and Bylsma, L. A meta-analysis of randomized trials and prospective cohort studies of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic long chain omega-3 fatty acids and coronary heart disease risk. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017; 92: 15–29

2.    O’Keefe JH, Jacob D , Lavie CJ. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Therapy: The Tide Turns for a Fish Story Mayo Clin Proc.  2017;92:1-3

3.    Harris W.S. The omega-3 index as a risk factor for coronary heart disease Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87: 1997S–2002S

4.    Albert C.M., Campos, H., Stampfer, M.J. et al. Blood levels of long-chain n-3 fatty acids and the risk of sudden death. N Engl J Med. 2002; 346: 1113–1118

5.    Siskovick D.S., Raghunathan, T.E., King, I. et al. Dietary intake and cell membrane levels of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. JAMA. 1995; 274: 1363–1367 

6.    Harris WS, Polreis J. Measurement of the Omega-3 Index in Dried Blood Spots. Ann Clin Lab Res. 2016, 4: 4

 

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