Essential Fatty Acid Testing

Have you ever been told to take fish oil?  Well, as many times as you’ve heard that advice, I’ve probably told ten times that many people to take it.  How much should you take?  Well, I went over some rough guidelines in my blog about fish oil some time ago.

I was doing some reading a few weeks ago and came across an article about doing blood tests to guide fish oil therapy.  Hey!  I didn’t even know blood tests were available to determine how much fish oil a person needed to take!  On I read…

Turns out, just like treating other problems of the blood chemistry (like electrolyte disturbances, low magnesium, high cholesterol and vitamin D deficiency) fish oil therapy can be guided by blood testing.  However, more information can be gotten from those blood tests than just how much fish oil a person should be taking.

Blood fatty acid testing can give an overall “wellness score” for the body.  It’s known that omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in fatty fish, flaxseed oil, borage seed oil and walnuts) are very good for you and are generally deficient in the Western diet.  On the other hand, omega-6 fatty acids (found in olive oil, corn oil and many other oils used in cooking and baking) are very prevalent in our diet.

In the body, a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is about 1:1.  In other words, your polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) should be balanced between omega-3 and omega-6.  The more heavily skewed your blood PUFA levels are towards omega-6 fatty acids, the less healthy you are, in general.

A very brief scan of the literature revealed LOTS of evidence of positive health effects of a high omega-3/omega-6 ratio. For instance, higher ratios were protective against progression of prostate cancer, cognitive decline in the elderly, neurologic deterioration after acute stroke, and progression of coronary plaque after heart attacks (even when patients were taking a statin drug!).  Asthma patients with higher ratios have better outcomes and fewer symptoms.  Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were also associated with lower blood pressure.

There are two other fatty acids that can be measured, that give a lot of information about inflammation in the body.  Those fatty acid are arachidonic acid (AA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  The ratio of AA to EPA is increased in inflammatory states.  The lower it is, the better.

So how can we use this research to help influence your health?  First you need to get tested.  If you have a cholesterol problem, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, or any other inflammatory condition, ask your doctor to order these tests:

  • Total omega-3 fatty acids
  • Total omega-6 fatty acids
  • Total polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Arachidonic acid (AA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

The first measure to understand is the omega-3 fatty acid/total polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio.  Ideal would be about 50%.  To alter the ratio, you would eat more omega-3 fatty acids and less omega-6 fatty acids.  This would translate to eating more fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovy, sardine and herring (SMASH is the acronym for fish with high omega-3 levels) and taking more fish oil supplements.  Using less cooking oils and eating less processed foods (which have added oils in them) is helpful too.

The second measure to calculate is the AA/EPA ratio.  The higher this ratio is, the more inflammation is present in your body.  A low level would be under 3, moderate is 3-6, elevated is 7-15, and high is >15.  If you have a high ratio, your best approach is to adopt a Mediterranean-type diet with lots of fresh colorful vegetables and fruit, fatty fish, lean meats in moderation, nuts and seeds.  Limit sugar, added oils and white starches.  Avoid food additives, especially partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils, like the plague.

These tests can be repeated to gauge progress.  If you make changes in your diet and add fish oil supplements, a repeat test can help to see if you’re moving in the right direction.

Don’t guess!  Test!  Then you’ll know whether your diet is helping nourish your body or if you’re causing inflammation and increasing your risk of a whole host of medical problems down the line.

QUESTION:  Do you think essential fatty acid testing would be helpful for you?  Why, or why not?


Being a Healthy Family, Part 2

Last week we talked about ways to teach your kids to eat healthy and be fit.  That’s not all it takes to create a healthy family, though!

A healthy diet and physical fitness will help your kids grow up healthy in their bodies.  What else do your kids need to learn to live healthy all their lives?

I can think of two other very important things children need in order to live healthy.  First, they need to be deeply connected to others who love them.  Second, they need to know how to make (and be very good at making) healthy choices.

How do we keep our kids connected to people who love them?  We make sure they spend time with them.  The first people children connect with is their immediate family (parents and siblings).  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins are all important role models, caretakers and playmates.

As our kids grow, neighborhood and school friends and their families become important parts of their extended families.  If your family attends church or temple, your religious community becomes an increasingly important source of support.

Why are social connections with people who love us so important?  For many reasons.  It’s exhausting raising kids!  Having more adults and older kids around to provided guidance and positive role models takes some of the pressure off of parents.  After all, a wise person said once that it takes a village to raise a child.

Hanging out with others who have the same values as your family helps to reinforce the values you are teaching your child.  While everyone has a little different approach, it’s good that your kids see other parents and adults insist on the same rules of behavior that you have taught them.  Mom and Dad aren’t so weird if Grandma, Aunt Stacy and Mrs. Cooper at Sunday School all insist on washing hands before snack and saying “please” and “thank you.”

One of the most important reasons for staying socially connected to other people as they grow up is that social connection is the anti-drug.  Studies have shown that people (teenagers and adults both) are unlikely to use drugs or engage in other dangerous and potentially self-destructive behaviors if they have deep social connections to people whose opinion of them matters to them.

This brings us to the second lesson kids need to learn well:  How to make good choices.  How do kids learn to make choices?  It sounds very strange, but THIS skill is one that really can’t be taught.  It’s one that kids have to learn on their own.



How do you teach your child to whistle?  You can’t, right?  You can show them how to purse their lips or position their fingers just right, but it’s a skill they have to learn by trial and error.  And you can’t convince them they can do it, you have to just encourage them to keep trying.

Learning to make good choices is the same way.  You can tell them the theory, help them see risks and benefits, weigh consequences, etc.  But the best way for kids to learn to make choices is simply to make them.  And start making them EARLY.

Do you know any kids in your life whose parents make ALL the choices?  Yep, I do too.  How do you suppose those kids are going to learn to say no to drugs, alcohol and sex?  If all the decisions have been made for them their whole life, they may be content to continue to let others tell them what to do.



Start early.  Even one-year-old babies can help choose their clothes.  Offer two outfits and see if they will pick.  Toddlers can choose their breakfasts.  Schoolkids with birthday money to spend can choose the toy or game they want to buy.  Teenagers should be actively involved in important decisions that affect them, like choosing their high school and what car they will drive.

As your child grows, the importance and freedom they have with their choices should increase in a way that matches their problem-solving skills.  For instance, toddlers don’t get to choose chocolate cake for breakfast (even if it does contain eggs and milk, LOL!).  As they get older let them deal with consequences if they regret their decision later.  That schoolkid who decides later they don’t like the toy they bought will learn a valuable lesson when they have to save up to buy something else.

There is a great parenting book series by Foster Cline and Jim Fay called Love and Logic.  Anyone struggling with the “terrible threes” should check out the early childhood book.  (I need to get the book that deals with teenagers, LOL!)

Now we come to a sticky point.  How do you teach someone something that you don’t know?  You can’t right?  So if you want your kids to learn to be healthy and adventurous eaters, YOU have to be willing to eat healthy foods and try new things, right?  If you want your kids to learn the value of physical fitness, YOU have to model a willingness to participate and get sweaty.

You are the most important teacher your child will ever have.  They listen carefully to what you say (even when it seems they won’t).  But they watch what you do as well, and what you DO speaks much more loudly than what you SAY.

Seek out opportunities to connect your family to your community.  Choose a church or temple to attend. Join groups that have the same interests as you. Volunteer.  Spend time with your extended family and with your neighbors and your kids’ friends’ families.

Show your kids how you make decisions.  Think out loud with them and talk through alternatives and possible consequences.  Be up-front with them when things don’t go as planned.  They will learn that making a bad decision doesn’t make you a bad person.

Everyone wants their kids to be happy.  In my opinion, giving your kids the skills to be healthy and fit, make solid decisions and be secure in the love of their family and community will go a long way towards making that happen.


Being A Healthy Family

Hi, everybody!  I’ve been asked to give a talk in 2 weeks at the Broadview Heights Health Fair about raising a healthy family.  As I started to prepare for it, I realized I have a great audience to help me make the best presentation possible!

This week and next I’m using my blog as a sounding board to prepare my talk.  I really need you to give me feedback!  Is there something I’m not discussing that you want to hear about, regarding staying healthy as a family?  Should I scrap something?  Let me know!

I think everybody agrees that for the most part Americans are pretty unhealthy.  Right?  Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, almost 10% of us have diabetes (and among the over-65 crowd about 25% of us have diabetes).  Among the top 10 causes of death are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, chronic lung disease and suicide, all of which are largely preventable.  It’s estimated that about 90% of illness in the United States is preventable.

Raise your hand if you’re a parent of kids under 18.  Yep mine’s up too.  Raise your hand if you’re confident you are raising your kids to be healthy.  Hey where’d all the hands go?!  Raising kids is hard!  There’s so much information and advice out there, it’s hard to know what to trust.

Today I’m going to keep it simple, and avoid throwing a lot of numbers at you.  These are broad concepts we’re going to talk about.  After all, being healthy shouldn’t be rocket science, right?  It should be easy for even a child to understand.

First let’s talk about the most important choice you need to make about your body and it’s health.  Can anyone guess what that might be?  (Pause for guesses)

That’s right.  The most important choice you need to make is what to put inside it.  Your diet affects every part of your health.  The scientific research about the effect of diet on your body is just exploding and some of it can be pretty confusing but I want to outline some broad concepts that even your kids will understand.

First of all, food should be fun!



And it should taste good.  Healthy food can be fun and tasty too.



Everyone should be involved with food!



Food shouldn’t be complicated.  Read ingredient lists.  If you don’t recognize it, don’t eat it.  Don’t eat food that isn’t food.  There’s a display in Iceland of the last McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries meal sold in the nation.



Sold in 2009.  Still looks pretty much the same.  There’s a YouTube video.  Sorry, that’s not food.  If mold won’t eat it, you shouldn’t either.

I’ve written a lot about diet over the last almost-3 years blogging.  I have 4 simple rules that cover most of it:

  1. Eat real food, not fake food or food that’s got a lot of unrecognizable chemicals in it.
  2. Eat mostly plants.  There’s lots of research that the healthiest people on the planet eat meat rarely, like a few times per month, and only on special occasions.
  3. Eat organic if you can.  The way we grow food in this country is nuts.  Pesticides are found in breast milk and urine samples.  A family in Sweden switched to organic food for 2 weeks.  Here’s what happened.  Little is known about what pesticides do to humans, and most of what we do know isn’t good.
  4. Don’t eat too much.  Obesity is a huge (pun intended) problem in the US.  Watch your portions.

The second lifestyle area I want to discuss with you is fitness.  Note I don’t say exercise.  Exercise is part of it, but not all of it.

Fitness is moving your body in a way that you enjoy.  I love yoga, and I love to run and to dance.  Not that I’m particularly good at any of them, and I’m not offering to demonstrate, but I love them.  I USED to like to swim but as I get older I have found I don’t enjoy being cold and wet.  So I don’t swim for fitness anymore.

How do you like to move your body?  Do you play a sport?

How do your kids like to move their bodies?  Here’s a hint.



They play!  They run, chase, jump, fall down, roll around, and get up to do it all over again.  They might ride a bike, scooter or roller skate.  They might play a sport (but they might not).  The key is helping them find a way to move their bodies that they love and WANT to do.  We want fitness to be fun and a lifelong thing.

The best form of fitness is something the whole family can do together.  My family studies martial arts together.  Make fitness something you all look forward to and it will integrate itself into your kids’ lives forever.

Next week I will discuss two more areas to focus on to help your family be healthy not just physically but emotionally/spiritually as well, and also to help your kids grow up with skills to make good choices all their lives.

QUESTION:  What do you think so far?  Got a suggestion?