A better test for heart disease and stroke risk (it’s not cholesterol)

I have previously explained why serum cholesterol measurements have limited value to predict heart disease.

But if it’s a test you want to predict heart disease and death risk, then let me tell you about the omega-3 blood test.

Believe me, you’ll want to tell your doctor about this one…

Predicting risk for heart attack and stroke

Cholesterol’s effect on your health is somewhat confusing…

We know it is required for to help manufacture hormones in the human body, but it can also become oxidized and contribute to atherosclerosis in the arteries of the heart.

But the studies aren’t definitive. Large studies tell us that measuring your LDL-cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) may — or may not — correlate with heart disease. For example, remember these studies:

  • DeBakey, the famous heart surgeon reported in 1964 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on his 1,700 open heart surgery patients in which he found no correlation between blood cholesterol levels and the severity of their coronary artery disease.
  • The Framingham Study followed 5209 randomly selected men and women between the ages of 30 and 62 beginning in 1948. Then in 1977 researchers examined blood cholesterol levels of 2,815 of these men and women aged 49 to 82 years and reported that, “Total cholesterol was not associated with the risk of coronary heart disease.”
  • A landmark study in 2009 revealed that nearly 75% of patients who had been hospitalized for a heart attack had LDL cholesterol levels within the recommended target (i.e. “normal levels”) for LDL cholesterol.
  • Similar rates of heart attack and overall death occur equally in groups who lowered their cholesterol compared to group who did not, according to the results of more than 40 different clinical trials.

So, since there appears to be such a disconnect, you may be wondering why so much focus has been on measuring serum cholesterol over the last few decades.

All I can say is that, in the medical community, it’s hard for some to let certain practices go by the wayside.

But, now there’s good reason to. Measuring the omega-3 levels in your red blood cells appears to be a better way to gauge your heart disease risk…

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A better test: measuring omega-3 levels

You probably know the health value of omega-3 oils in your diet. These essential fatty acids are vital micronutrients, along with plant-based vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Foods highest in these micronutrients reverse disease.

Now, research has taken the role of omega-3 essential fatty acids a step further…

A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology, measured blood levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

The researchers call it the “Omega-3 Index” (EPA+DHA content of red blood cell membranes). They measured and followed it for seven year in 2,500 participants, who averaged 66 years of age when the study began, and who are children of the original Framingham Heart Study which began in 1948.

They found that those with a higher Omega-3 Index had lower risk for heart attacks strokes. Moreover, this group’s risk of death from “all other causes” was also greatly reduced…

Higher omega-3 levels = lower risk of death, period

In addition to the Omega-3 Index measuring heart attack and stroke risk better than cholesterols serum levels, this test revealed compelling information about the strong link between omega-3s and overall health.

That’s because the risk for total mortality (death from any cause) in those in the highest Omega-3 Index group was about 33 percent lower than those in the lowest Omega-3 Index group.

This means that there are far more beneficial actions of EPA and DHA on your health than just arterial plaque build-up.

The authors point out that serum cholesterol levels, when substituted for the Omega-3 Index using the same multi-variable models, was not significantly associated with the disease outcomes they tracked; whereas the Omega-3 Index related to 4 of the 5 outcomes they assessed.

And, this was not the first study to show these results. This link between higher omega-3 levels in the blood and lower risk for death was previously reported in other studies.

In my opinion, it is time to begin using the Omega-3 Index with your routine blood screens. So, please, talk to your physician about it.

Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!


  1. DeBakey, Michael: JAMA 189:655, 1964
  2. Gordon T, Castelli WP, Hjortland MC, Kannel WB, Dawber TR. High density lipoprotein as a protective factor against coronary heart disease. The Framingham Study. Am J Med. 1977 May;62(5):707-14. PubMed PMID: 193398. Find online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/193398/
  3. Sachdeva A, Cannon CP, Deedwania PC, Labresh KA, Smith SC Jr, Dai D, Hernandez A, Fonarow GC. Lipid levels in patients hospitalized with coronary artery disease: an analysis of 136,905 hospitalizations in Get With The Guidelines. Am Heart J. 2009 Jan;157(1):111-117.e2. Online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=136%2C905+patients%2C+2000+and+2006
  4. http://www.naturalnews.com/025891_cholesterol_high_disease.html
  5. Harris WS, Tintle N, Etherton MR, Vasan RS, The Omega-3 Index can serve as a marker of overall health in older Americans. Erythrocyte Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels are Inversely Associated with Mortality and with Incident Cardiovascular Disease: the Framingham Heart Study, Journal of Clinical Lipidology 2018 Mar 2. pii: S1933-2874(18)30061-8. PubMed PMID: 29559306.
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29559306
  7. Stark K.D., van Elswyk M.E., Higgins M.R., Weatherford C.A., Salem N., Jr. Global survey of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in the blood stream of healthy adults. Prog. Lipid Res. 2016;63:132–152. [PubMed]
  8. Flock M.R., Skulas-Ray A.C., Harris W.S., Etherton T.D., Fleming J.A., Kris-Etherton P.M. Determinants of erythrocyte omega-3 fatty acid content in response to fish oil supplementation: A dose-response randomized controlled trial. J. Am. Heart Assoc. 2013;2:e000513.[PubMed]
  9. Harris W.S. The omega-3 index as a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2008;87:1997S–2002S. [PubMed]
  10. Harris W.S., von Schacky C. The omega-3 index: A new risk factor for death from coronary heart disease? Prev. Med. 2004;39:212–220. [PubMed]


Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.