Decoding Omega-3s

Just what are omega-3s?... and why should you get your levels tested?

There's so much talk about omega-3s in the wellbeing world that it feels like we're just expected to know exactly what the heck they are! In a bid to decode these 'good fats' Health Bird spoke to International omega-3 expert Dr Bill Harris.

It's pretty handy info to have in your health tool belt considering even the diet-conscious and regular exercisers amongst us possibly aren't getting the recommend intake of omega-3s.



84% of the world's population is deficient in omega-3s, and according to a recent survey, more than half (52%) of Australians are not meeting the recommended 2-3 serves of fish

Omega-3s are a group of “fatty acids” necessary for overall health. Like proteins and DNA, they're a fundamental building block of life, found in every cell in our body. Most fatty acids in the body are made from scratch by our cells, so we don’t need to think about them, but omega-3s can't be manufactured; they need to come from our diet, like vitamins and minerals. Problem is, typical western diets don't include enough of these essential fatty acids, therefore our tissues are running on ‘low’. Much like oil in an engine, the right levels of omega-3s in our tissues keep our cells running smoothly and not generating too much “heat” or inflammation.

Not a good result considering omega-3s play a role in brain function; reducing symptoms such as pain and stiffness in joints; and lowering high blood pressure and blood triglyceride levels (a type of fat in your blood that can increase your risk of heart disease). Most importantly, they may be the main way to reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your cardiovascular system.

Know your levels!

The only way to accurately know whether you are consuming enough omega-3s is to test them.

The new Omega-3 Index Test has recently been made available in Australia. It’s a simple, self-administered finger prick test.

The target Omega-3 Index is 8% to 12%, a range associated with the lowest risk for developing cardiovascular disease. An Omega-3 Index of 4% or less is linked with a relatively high risk.

In Australia the average omega-3 level is low and falls between 4-6%.

Ready to test?

Omega-3 Index testing is available through select practitioners and pharmacies. Visit for a full list of participants.

How to increase your omega-3 levels...

There are two ways to increase your omega-3 levels: through diet or by taking supplements. These essential fatty acids are mainly found in ‘oily’ fish. Make sure your diet includes two to three servings a week of marine sources of omega-3 fats such as salmon, tuna, barramundi mackerel and sardines. 

If fish isn’t your thing, taking a daily omega-3 supplement of essential fatty acids such as krill or fish oil, may be of benefit. The recommended intake is 250-500 mg of EPA+DHA per day.

Remember to always check with your healthcare practitioner to ensure that a supplement is right for you before adding to your diet.

Remember to always check with your healthcare practitioner to ensure that a supplement is right for you before adding to your diet.


Dr. Harris is an internationally recognised expert on omega-3 fatty acids and how they can benefit patients with heart disease. He obtained his PhD in Human Nutrition from the University of Minnesota, and completed post-doctoral fellowships in Clinical Nutrition and Lipid Metabolism at the Oregon Health Sciences University.