The Omega-3 Index as a Good Measure of your Overall Health and Identify Health Conditions [Interview][Transcript]

Prof_Peter_Howe_Omega3_Heart_HealthGuest: Professor Peter Howe
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Professor Peter Howe, PhD is Professor of Nutrition Research and Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre at the University of Newcastle and an Adjunct Professor at both the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. With an extensive track record of multidisciplinary preclinical and clinical research, over 250 papers, 8500 citations and an H-index of 48. He is recognised as an authority on cardiovascular and metabolic health benefits of omega-3 and other bioactive nutrients. Prof Howe has built partnerships with industry to develop functional foods and nutraceuticals and has contributed to food regulatory policy in Australia. He is a Fellow of the Nutrition Society of Australia and joint Editor-in-Chief of Nutrients.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, we are joined by Professor Peter Howe from the University of Newcastle to talk about recent development about Omega-3 consumption and heart health. He is among the invited speakers for the upcoming Blackmores Institute Symposium 2015 that will be held this month. Professor Howe will discuss the need for the Omega-3 test to be introduced as a cost effective marker of an individual’s omega-3 status and to encourage health professionals to measure their patients’ underlying level of Omega-3 fatty acids to decide on the right level of supplementation. This is a reliable way of getting Omega 3 fatty acids for those who do not eat enough fish.


Health Professional Radio

Wayne Bucklar: You’re Listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar. Today my guest is Professor Peter Howe. Peter is professor of Nutrition Research and Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Center at the University of Newcastle and an Adjunct professor both the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. Peter welcome to Health Professional Radio.

Peter Howe: Thanks Wayne.

W: Now Peter you’ve come on Health Professional Radio because of your research in the area fish oil and in Omega-3. And I understand you’re also speaking about at the Blackmores Institute Symposium coming up shortly.

R: That’s right, this Friday.

W: Lots of people seem to be very interested in that. We’ve had a number of speakers on the air and talking to us. Tell us about your research and what you would be telling people about at the symposium.

P: Well I’ve been involved in Omega 3 research and some early days, when I say early days back in the 1980’s when people used to say “He’s the guy works on snake oil.” But I think we’ve come a long way since then in terms of recognizing the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil as a source. And recognizing or at least understanding a bit more about the requirements for them for optimum health and some potential specific applications. So not surprisingly there’s been market increase in public awareness of fish oil product and I think the latest figures show an uptake of about 12% in the Australian adult population which is really remarkable and as I said not that many years ago, people knew very little about this and were pretty skeptical. Having said that, there’s still a fair bit of skepticism out there and a lot of that actually comes from researchers themselves who are constantly wanting to advice the public that we don’t know all the answers. There’s a lot more research that needs to be done and maybe we shouldn’t be jumping the gun on things like heart health benefits etc. So there’s been a potentially a bit of back peddling from the Australian National Heart Foundation with their recently published paper where they have reviewed some of the latest evidence from clinical trials and pretty much concluded that whilst the evidence is still looking pretty good there for fish consumption, it doesn’t appear to be quite so good for fish oil supplementation which is a bit unusual because the main active component is of course this omega-3 fatty acid.

W: And I guest Peter given that there’s no kind of drug patent or to be had in this, funding is going to be quite scarce that come by for investigating the health benefits of fish.

P: Well that’s how it was so many years ago and which is probably the reason why there was such a low uptake of research into the helpful benefits of omega-3 fatty acids even though they were recognized as potentially beneficial and pretty much essential for our diet back 40 years ago. But I guess that in more recent times now have become so much more general knowledge and understanding, that fish oil supplements can give health benefits. There’s a lot more interest certainly been a huge increase in uptake and consumption this product. And one would have hope that might have been accompanied by further research to better define their benefits. But one of the areas that I have been particularly concerned about is the fact that some of the studies sort of being done that have raised question marks about particularly heart health benefits in omega-3 haven’t been managed quite as well as I think they could have been for a nutrients that is an essential component of our diet. So that this some omega-3 since everybody’s on diets, we can’t actually do a proper placebo control trial like a drug trial and compare a level of supplementation with total exclusion. And I think this is a flaw in a number of the more recent trials that are being done. And there is a better way of looking at this, we know and in fact that was argued more than a decade ago, but we can look at the level of omega-3 in an individual, measure of an individual’s omega-3 status if you like by measuring the omega 3 content in red blood cells, particularly looking at the combination of EPA and DHA and this was termed the omega-3 index. It was shown not only a really good indicator of long term consumption and incorporation into tissues in the body, but particularly comfortable to what we suffer in the heart, but was also shown to be inversely related to the risk of cardiovascular disease from the trials that have been studied up into a time that that was presented. That was presented as a hypothesis, the evidence supporting that has continued to grow and in fact if you look at almost all the studies that have been done, whether that’s actually made this measurement of the omega-3 index, then there’s very clear significant association between the amount of omega-3 actually in these red blood cells reflecting what’s in the tissues in your body and your health status. And that applies not only to heart health but potentially also to other areas of health including one that I’m particularly interested in and that’s mental health. And as we get older obviously we’re concerned about factors in our diet and lifestyle that can impact on our mood and cognitive performance and so on. And here we do actually have evidence also for benefits of omega-3 supplementation and those benefits are clearer to demonstrate when you relate them to the level of omega-3 actually in the body as reflected by this measure of red blood cells. And actually one of those omega-3 DHA has stood out better in some studies than others. But there also appears to be a number of other factors that influence that including gender differences. So these things are just coming to surface now, if we start looking at this omega 3 index or these levels of red blood cell. So to me it just seemed logical that we should be undertaking these measurements and looking at those associations when we do supplementation trial. And that really would be a much better way of substantiating the sort of claims that are being made and that also applies too for looking at the kind of omega-3s and the benefits that different supplement can deliver. For example if you’re looking at fish oil versus krill oil or some microalgae or extract, the important thing at the end of the day is what we wind-up within our body after consuming these things on a regular basis.

W: Yes. I was intrigued by your comment that there are links with mental health and depression. This is a recurring theme we deal with here at Health Professional Radio, what appears to be a growing number of people who are suffering these mental health issues. So it seems such a simple solution if it has a benefit, it sounds like …

P: One of the things that got the ball rolling for omega-3 was actually these early indications that they might be very important clinical for early infant development and growth and particularly development of brain function and retinal function. And I think looking at that end of the lifespan right at the starting point obviously was an important trigger to determine whether or not the society might have been at risk of immediate deficiency and therefore impairing early infant development. But now of course we can also be looking at the other end of the lifespan.

W: My guest today is Professor Peter Howe, Professor of Nutrition Research and Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Center in University of Newcastle and adjunct professor both in University of Adelaide and University of South Australia. And Peter has been talking to us about his research with Omega-3s. Peter most of our audience are clinicians of one sort or another, often in acute care and aged care. Is there a take away message for them today as a result of having heard you on our program?

P: Well I think the take home message I’d like is do you know your number? You probably know what your blood pressure is, you probably know what your cholesterol level is, does anybody know what their omega-3 index is? And do they care? They’re unlikely to know it because this hasn’t been available as a routine analytical test in Australia. But it is certainly being introduced in the US and in Europe and I think it’s a very important move.

W: As a result of our chat today, we might inspire a few more of those clinicians to inquire a bit further about that particular test. Peter is there a single misconception about omega-3s that concern you? Is there a misconception amongst clients or patients or clinicians that you would like to see resolved?

P: Only the concerns of people have about what’s the best kind of omega-3 to be taking and that really depends very much on why somebody is taking up, when they’re taking them up for general health or whether they believe that there some specific conditions for which the omega-3s might benefit them. And they do need to know something about type and dose. We have in our nutrient reference study for Australia and New Zealand, officially a doctor recommendation for omega 3 and its amount is pretty well to a target intake of around 500 milligrams per day. And that still is the endorsed value by the Heart Foundation for the general population. But as I said for people who are concerned about specific health conditions, they might be thinking about more than that or other types of product. I think a lot of the confusion that were out there earlier without the plant omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid which is precursor of the long chain omega-3 EPA and DHA, people did think that by eating these plant sources and brands on they were deriving the omega 3 benefit. I think that misconception has largely disappeared and I think that’s been important. So I think we need now to move forward with a better understanding what the marine omega-3s can do for us and recognize that we are individuals so it’s not one size fits all. We really do need to be able to measure our omega 3 status.

W: Professor Peter Howe, thank you for being with us this morning. It has been a very informative chat so I do appreciate your time, I do understand you’re busy. Thank you for joining us.

P: You’re welcome.

W: Professor Peter Howe is the Professor of Nutrition Research and Director the Clinical Nutrition Research Center of the University in Newcastle and an Adjunct Professor of both the University of Adelaide and University South Australia. Peter’s talking at the Blackmores Institute Symposium which is coming out this week and his topic is fish oil and Omega 3s. And I understand he’ll be calling for testing and stressing the importance of fish in our diets. If you’ve just missed my conversation with Peter Howe, the good news is we have a transcript on our website and you can hear the interview again as a sound archive on both SoundCloud and YouTube. My name is Wayne Bucklar, this is Health Professional Radio.

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