Omega 3 Levels: The Importance and Health Benefits [transcript][audio]


Guest: Gerald Quigley

Presenter: Tabetha Moreto

Guest Bio: Gerald is a pharmacist and master herbalist based in Melbourne. He is a media health commentator heard each week on many radio stations across Australia. His passion is to empower each person to make sensible health decisions, and to continually maintain and improve their quality of life, especially as they age. Rediscovering the ability to understand wellness, the role of food choices, and aging well, are aspects of vitality fundamental to our future.

Segment Overview: In today’s interview, Gerald elaborates on the significant health benefits of omega 3 and how omega 3 levels are as important as cholesterol to help predict risk of serious diseases including heart disease and inflammatory conditions.

TRANSCRIPT – Omega-3 Levels

Tabetha Moreto: Hello everyone, welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host for today, Tabetha Moreto. Our guest today is Gerald Quigley, a Pharmacist and Master Herbalist based in Melbourne. His passion is to empower each person to make sensible health decisions and to continually maintain and improve their quality of life. Today, we’re going to talk about how omega-3 levels are important as cholesterol to help predict risk of serious diseases such as heart disease. Without further ado, welcome to the show Gerald. It’s so nice to have you here.

Gerald Quigley: Thank you, Tabetha and great to be with you.

T: Yes, my pleasure. So Gerald, please tell the audience more about yourself and the nature of your work.

G: Tabetha, I’m a Pharmacist. I’ve been a Pharmacist 47 years, but my interest in complementary medicines and holistic health began not long after I qualified as a pharmacist in the first pharmacy that my wife and I owned. I was very concerned that we were seeing the same people, with the same disease states month after month, after month, being nice little people and just having their medicines correctly but not ever improving. There was no incentive for them to take some sort of control and maybe reduce their reliance on those medications. Some were very important but often with some lifestyles suggestions or some nutritional interventions to address deficiencies that were quite prominent in their own quality of life, we were able to make a real difference and we were certainly highly valued as local pharmacists in all the time we’ve had with our pharmacies in the past.

T: Excellent. Now tell us, how can omega-3 levels help predict serious diseases like heart disease?

G: Tabetha, we’re talking here about inflammation. So if you look at that word, there’s a word in there almost called flame. So we’re looking at heat, we’re looking at wear and tear and we’re looking at ageing. So inflammation, in my view is probably one of the underlying causes of most chronic diseases particularly as we age. So anything we can do to interfere with that inflammatory process is really really important. We can do that with herbs like turmeric. We can do it with a number of food substances particularly vegetables but there’s been a lot of focus on omega-3s, because Western societies just don’t get enough fish and certainly in Australia. Our government statistics show that we are nowhere near our adequate intake of not just fruit and vegetables but also fish containing Omega-3s. If we can interfere with the process we can delay or reduce the effect on a person’s quality of life of all of the inflammatory processes that might be going on.

T: Wow. That’s very fascinating and that’s true, I agree with you nowadays especially in Western societies people don’t eat a lot of fish. They are mostly meat eaters.

G: Yes, they are and grass-fed beef is obviously better than grain-fed beef for that issue, but what happens Tabetha, sadly is that we tend to pigeonhole diseases. We pigeonhole hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease generally. We pigeonhole them but we never really look behind the scenes and say, “Why is this happening?” and it’s all about inflammation and omega-3s have a very important role to play there.

T: Yes. That’s very fascinating indeed. And Gerald, I’m curious I’ve heard there are different types of Omega 3. I’ve heard there’s something called EPA and DHA. So can you kindly explain what’s the difference between these two types of Omega 3?

G: Sure. So Omega 3 is a family, Tabetha, there’s many, many, many different types of essential fatty acids. The two we focus on and sadly the only two we really measure are called EPA and DHA – very long names but you’ll find that every bottle of supplement containing omega-3 has got a defined content of EPA and a defined content of DHA. So they are the two of the essential fats found mainly in fish. Now we complicate that further because there are omega-3s that come from other sources. So ALA which is another essential fatty acid and that’s sourced from nuts, from green leafy vegetables and the fat from grass-fed animals not grain-fed animals. But from a fish perspective, EPA – Eicosapentaenoic acid, DHA – docosahexaenoic acid but let’s just stay with EPA and DHA, shall we?

T: Sure yes, that’s a lot of them. But thank you so much Gerald for simplifying them especially for the audience. I really appreciate that. This is something that can be considered like a complex subject.

G: Well it is. And I think Tabetha it’s also confused with most labels which say 1000 milligram of fish oil. Now that’s probably true, what you’ve got to do is look at the label and see how much EPA and DHA is contained. Because lots of different brands have different contents, different strengths of that EPA – DHA combination. So some have a total strength of 300 milligram, so in a 1000 milligram fish oil there’s only 1/3 of it which contains the essential fatty acids.

T: I see, that’s very interesting. So please tell the audience what is the best omega-3 supplement that they should take?

G: For years Tabetha, we have been focusing on fish oil and that’s been fine. So the difficulty is with fish oil, it comes as a package. So it’s almost like a shoe box and that shoe box is a triglyceride packaging which means that you’ve got to take a lot of fish oil to be able to lift the essential fatty acid content of your red blood cells. Over the last five or six years, there has been a lot of work done with krill oil, which you could almost say is that it’s a more potent type of EPA and DHA combination. Because the shoe box it comes in is a phospholipid. It’s a human friendly fat which means that you get a far better absorption of the EPA and the DHA and that now can be measured as well. There’s never been a definitive study, Tabetha, comparing one or the other and it probably won’t ever happen because frankly, there’s no money in it just by proving this. But it is estimated that you need in a 500 milligram krill it’s estimated it might be about four or five standard strength fish oil capsules. So instead of taking four or five of a fish oil, you might just need to take one or two of a krill oil. So from a patient’s perspective it’s better. It’s more completely absorbed that has less risk of reflux which can be a problem if you’re taking a lot of the fish oil and it contains what’s what I think is really quite amazing. With the fish oil, Tabetha, you’ve got to add vitamin E to stop it from going rancid, to stop it oxidizing. Krill oil and nature is so phenomenal here, krill oil contains its own natural antioxidants, got a fancy name called astaxanthin and it gives it that red pigment, that orangey pigment that you find in the net in krill oil in the natural state. So it has got its own antioxidant which stops it from going off and that means it’s really fish. It’s really an omega-3 in its most simple and natural form that is easier to absorb in our body than standard fish oils.

T: Wow. That is very fascinating information and thank you so much. I really appreciate you explaining all of this because, as I mentioned earlier, omega-3 is something that a lot of people don’t really understand or it’s something that confuses them because it’s so complex.

G: Yes it is. So we’ve got diet treating Omega 3s, so those things that you and I spoke off. Fish contain oily fish especially. So sardines, tuna, salmon, they’re ideal and it is recommended we eat two to three serves of those fish each week as part of a heart-healthy diet. But you can also add nuts into that as well or you can look at using a supplement either fish, but better krill to drive up your levels of essential fatty acid and reduce the risk of a number of those inflammation related diseases. We’re looking here at cardiovascular health, inflammatory conditions and in fact even, would you believe, mood disorders.

T: Wow. Mood disorders, that’s a very and nice benefit to have omega-3 in our diet.

G: Well our brains rely on levels of essential fatty acids to function correctly.

T: Yes that’s true and I want to ask you something. I know that some people don’t get enough omega-3. So what are the symptoms of omega-3 deficiency?

G: Usually you get inflammatory states and probably the first thing that happens, Tabetha, is they get some aches and pains because of osteoarthritis. That’s usually the first thing. You might get dry skin, you might get dry mouth, dry eye, you might start to get a fuzzy brain. Now a lot of these things can be offset by looking at your nutritional intake and looking especially at the intake of omega-3s.

T: I see. So with the benefit of omega-3, a lot of people can have a much better state of health.

G: Well it’s called quality of life and all we’re doing, as I said right at the beginning, we’re interfering with the inflammation levels, which as we age and Australians are living older now, but they want to fairly well to live older, we want to live better, we want to live as well as we possibly can. The biggest challenge in all of this, Tabetha, is how we tell whether we’ve got enough omega-3s in our body. And one of the most exciting thing that’s happened recently is that we’ve got an omega-3 test available. A simple finger-prick test which tells you the essential fatty acid content of your red blood cells and this means that you’re not just firing in the dark now. You’re not taking a supplement and you don’t know whether it’s really making a difference to you or not. There are parameters that are recommended, we meet them, we talk of an essential fatty acid content of about eight as being average for reducing the risk especially of cardiovascular disease and many other inflammation related disorders. But so many Australians that I see that have a test done Tabetha, they’re usually about three or four because they’re not eating any fish. They’re really not having those omega-3 friendly alternative sources like nuts and olive oil and they’re not really eating all that much meat. So their levels are down and when a person realizes that and make some changes, it is just interesting to see the changes in their quality of life that happens.

T: Yes. I find this interesting that this new omega-3 index test can really help people check the amount of omega-3 that they have in their bodies and I find this very fascinating.

G: So there’s a number of pharmacists and a number of practitioners who do stock these tests and you can just ask your local pharmacist or your GP, pharmacist probably better. And once you get the test back, then you go along and you have a chat through that practitioner and ask for some suggestions as to how to lift it up. And perhaps in six months time, do another test and you’ll be surprised at the difference in your levels.

T: Absolutely, thank you for mentioning this to us. I’m going to get one myself and I hope everybody listening right now will get this test as well.

G: It’s very important because a lot of us take nutritional supplements. You take magnesium but you can’t just go and get a magnesium test conveniently and you take other things. So this is a finite way of checking to see where you sit on the level of essential fatty acids in your red blood cells and that also probably might explain why some little things are starting to develop as far as a your body is concerned.

T: Excellent message. So now tell us, are there any misconceptions regarding omega-3 that you want to clear up on the show today?

G: Real misconception I find Tabetha, is that people think that they’re going to get fat by eating these fats and that’s just doesn’t happen. It was a message put up by the low-fat movement about 30 years ago which is proven to be rubbish. Because we know now that quality fats improve so many aspects of your health. They actually reduce your appetite because they’re more satisfying and that’s probably the biggest misconception out there, that if I eat, if I have olive oil on my salad dressing it’s going to go straight to my hips nothing further from the truth. We should be worried more about high carb foods and let’s just be sensible about the fat content because even a little bit of saturated fat is not so bad now we’re discovering. But for optimal health we just need to focus on omega-3s and reduces the risk of those diseases of ageing as I mentioned.

T: Excellent. Thank you so much for clearing up this misconceptions. And I can’t believe that either. How can something as good as omega-3 make someone fat? That is absolute rubbish, I agree with you.

G: And it really is and it’s just because sadly, if you tell a message that isn’t right, you do it well, so you market the message well and this is what the low-fat movement did thirty years ago. It just drives people into an area of their health that they don’t want to go and often can be too late to retrieve them. So we’re looking here at just interfering with the process of inflammation as we age. It’s a very simple thing. We’re looking at the reasons why these diseases develop. And even if they are developed, we’re looking at the reducing the impact of living with those conditions for as long as we possibly can in the healthiest way we possibly can.

T: Fantastic. So before we go Gerald, what is your main takeaway message to all of our listeners?

G: I think the main takeaway message is there are two-fold. One is to increase your intake of oily fish. So if you’re out for dinner or if you’re at home, look at buying a piece of salmon or tuna. If you enjoy sardines, what a magnificent way to start a day is to have sardines squashed on toast with grated cheese on top in the griller. It’s a great way to start the day. Have some nuts. Nuts, provided they’re sensible, a handful of nuts are actually good for your heart and good for inflammation levels as well. And I had in there an omega-3 supplement. I take krill oil, Tabetha. I just find it’s just easier because often you don’t get an opportunity to eat as much of the omega-3 containing foods as you wish particularly fish, but we now know that it’s a balance of both. And to top that all of that often see where you sit in the ladder of your essential fatty acid content of red blood cells, go and get an omega-3 test, simple, prick your finger. The test contains everything you need, even a band-aid and then just fill in the details carefully. So if the people at the other end of the testing can read it and they will get back to you promptly with your results.

T: Excellent, thank you so much. You made me hungry actually Gerald. I think I’m going to have some fish for dinner tonight. Thank you so much. Now before we go, for those who want to contact you – how can they get in touch with you?

G: The best way is through my website which is And also I have another contact, I do some other media work from the House of Wellness. So if you go to the, both of those contain an easy access to getting a message to me which I will promptly respond to.

T: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much Gerald for coming on the show today. It was fantastic having you.

G: Pleasure Tabetha, all the best.

T: And that was Gerald Quigley, Pharmacist and Master Herbalist based in Melbourne. We’ve just been talking about omega-3 and the fantastic health benefits it provides especially it can help predict the risk of serious diseases like heart diseases. If you liked this interview, transcripts and archives are available at We’re on all social media platforms, so don’t forget to follow, like and subscribe. We’re also available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes. I’m Tabetha Moreto and you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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