The Growing Interest in Personalized Nutrition and Omega-3 Tests
Earlier this week OmegaQuant landed a spot on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list, which features the fastest growing companies in America. Growing 177% in a three-year period, the company offers evidence-based nutritional status tests to researchers, health practitioners, and consumers, with a focus on fatty acids.
William S. Harris, PhD, founded OmegaQuant in 2009 to commercialize the Omega-3 Index Test, which measures the amount of omega-3s EPA and DHA in the blood. Over the last decade, the company has grown considerably, adding more fatty acid tests to its portfolio, including its latest product, The Prenatal DHA Test.
Dr. Harris has been researching fatty acids for more than 30 years and to date has published more than 300 papers on these nutrients. He co-invented the Omega-3 Index in 2004 as an objective way to measure the intake of omega-3s in the diet, which are found in fatty fish like salmon and omega-3 supplements like fish oil.
Since 2004 more than 100 papers featuring the Omega-3 Index have been published in the medical and scientific literature. Furthermore, the original paper establishing the rationale for the Omega-3 Index as a new risk factor for cardiovascular disease has since been cited in over 700 research papers. In fact, a study published last year showed that the Omega-3 Index is a better predictor of death from heart disease than cholesterol.
“Omega-3s EPA and DHA are incredibly important to many aspects of human health, particularly the heart and brain. The Omega-3 Index test in particular has been so useful to the scientific and practitioner communities because it is an accurate marker of omega-3 status,” Dr. Harris said, adding, “Consumers also like using this test because they don’t need an order from a doctor. It is also safe and easy to use, and helps them personalize their omega-3 intake.”
BLOG: The Long, Winding Road of Omega-3 Research: A Brief History, According to Dr. Bill Harris
Dr. Harris continued, “While even the healthiest people might think they are getting enough omega-3s in the diet, very few actually do. In fact, a 2016 study showed only a few regions in the world are consuming protective levels of omega-3s (e.g., Japan, Korea, and Norway), while the rest of the world is very low in omega-3s.”
According to Inc. magazine, the Inc. 5000 list is the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. The list represents a unique look at the most successful companies within the American economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent small businesses. Microsoft, Dell, Domino’s Pizza, Pandora, Timberland, LinkedIn, Yelp, Zillow, and many other well-known names gained their first national exposure as honorees on the Inc. 5000.
Not only have the companies on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list been very competitive within their markets, but the list as a whole shows staggering growth compared with prior lists, Inc. magazine says. The 2019 Inc. 5000 companies achieved an astounding three-year average growth of 454 percent, and a median rate of 157 percent. The Inc. 5000’s aggregate revenue was $237.7 billion in 2018, accounting for more than 1.2 million jobs over the past three years.
“We are so proud of this accomplishment and hope to remain on this list for years to come,” said Jason Polreis, CEO, OmegaQuant. “We attribute our incredible growth to the quality work and service from our staff, the valuable test Dr. Harris invented, and the recent interest personalized nutrition. Our nutritional status tests, such as the Omega-3 Index and Prenatal DHA Test, are just the beginning. We hope to expand our portfolio with similar nutritional status tests in the future.”
Omega-3s have surpassed antioxidants as one of the most popular health terms searched on Google. But like antioxidants, many people don’t know what omega-3s are, where they come from, what they do, or how much to take. The Omega-3 Index is the means by which people can personalize their omega-3 intake, which can help them choose the right sources of EPA and DHA and figure out how much is needed to raise their Omega-3 Index.
The Omega-3 Index from OmegaQuant Becomes the Preferred Omega-3 Test Among Researchers Globally
Decades of omega-3 research primarily has focused on getting dietary intake information from subjects or feeding them specific doses of omega-3s and measuring health outcomes. A little over a decade ago, Dr. Harris teamed up with researchers all over the world and participated in some of the largest clinical trials. His contribution to them was the Omega-3 Index.
Since capturing dietary intake data is often plagued by omissions and inaccuracies, researchers could benefit from an objective way to measure the omega-3s in someone’s diet. Pairing that with dietary intake data and then assessing health outcomes of omega-3s is a powerful combination.
For researchers, the Omega-3 Index allows them to measure omega-3 status before, during and after a study. This valuable information helps them assess what level of omega-3s is protective and what level is unhealthy.
The Omega-3 Index from OmegaQuant has been used in some of the largest clinical trials in the world, including the Framingham Heart Study and the Women’s Health Initiative, both of which included thousands of subjects. This is an important detail because it means that the Omega-3 Index has been standardized over time and seems to be the preferred omega-3 test of researchers globally.
For health practitioners and consumers, the Omega-3 Index can be used as a tool to help personalize omega-3 intake. In other words, it can help them measure, modify and monitor these important nutrients in the diet. This is particularly important because there are so many individual variations in diet, genetics, and lifestyle. There is also a lot of confusion when it comes to locating the most appropriate sources of omega-3s. The reality is it doesn’t matter where your omega-3s from – as long as whatever you’re consuming delivers a meaningful amount of EPA and DHA, enough that puts you in the protective zone of 8% on the Omega-3 Index scale.
The Rise of Personalized Nutrition
According to a June 2018 article in BMJ, the overall goal of personalized nutrition is to preserve or increase health using genetic, phenotypic, medical, nutritional, and other relevant information about individuals to deliver more specific healthy eating guidance and other nutritional products and services.
“Personalized nutrition is equally applicable to patients and to healthy people who may or may not have enhanced genetic susceptibilities to specific diseases,” the BMJ article said.
And it can be applied in two broad areas: (1) the dietary management of people with specific diseases or who need special nutritional support—for example, in pregnancy or old age, and, (2), for the development of more effective interventions for improving public health.
Blanket nutrition recommendations are becoming passé, especially among more progressive health practitioners who consider diet just as important as medicine in preventing and treating disease, and who see specific components of the diet as powerful weapons against disease (i.e., omega-3s, vitamin D). Nutritional status tests can help guide recommendations for patients with a greater level of specificity and accuracy.
To have a wider impact, the authors in the BMJ article said personalized nutrition must be deployed at a scale and in a way that reduces (rather than increases) health disparities. At the same time, individuals may also wish to use personalized nutrition to achieve personal goals/ambitions that are less directly related to health—for example, to deal with preferences for, and dislikes of, specific foods, to attempt to achieve a desired body size or shape, or for competitive sport.
To test the benefits of a more personalized approach to nutrition, researchers conducted the Food4Me Study, the findings from which were published in 2017. To date it is the largest randomized controlled trial looking into the benefits of personalized nutrition.
The goal of the study? To answer two important questions: (1) Is personalized nutrition more effective in changing diet than a conventional one-size-fits-all approach? (2) Does the basis used for personalization matter? In other words, will people make positive changes based on information they receive?
After 6 months, the authors of this study said dietary advice assisted and/or motivated consumers to eat a healthier diet and follow a healthier lifestyle (in comparison with “impersonal” (conventional) dietary advice).
But there are challenges. A recent Forbes article threw out a similar question to the one posed in the Food4Me study, asking if people would actually change their ways when they learned more about what their genes tell them about their health? “There’s no clinical evidence that people who’ve learned through genetic testing that they have a high genetic risk for a specific disease dramatically change their lifestyle to lower that risk. Or change their lifestyle at all. In fact, there is plenty of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, to the contrary.”
But what about blood tests like the Omega-3 Index, which can offer more precise information about someone’s nutritional status? And what is the difference between a nutritional status tests like the Omega-3 Index and a DNA test? The Omega-3 Index reflects the amount of omega-3s EPA and DHA people have in their blood. The correlates directly with what is found in heart and brain tissue, which are the areas where omega-3s offer the most benefit. A DNA test simply makes predictions about certain health outcomes based on your genetic make-up.
The Omega-3 Index from OmegaQuant is superior for 4 reasons:
1-The original proposal of the Omega-3 Index was written and published by Dr. Bill Harris, who also founded OmegaQuant
2-The Dried Blood Spot technology used for the Omega-3 Index is unique to OmegaQuant and only requires one drop of blood for analysis
3-The Omega-3 Index has been evaluated by FDA and found to be useful enough but still innocuous enough that it doesn’t need premarket approval or FDA oversight
4-OmegaQuant is the only lab that has CLIA certification, which is the approval labs need to have in order to support testing in patient care
What Lies Ahead?
If the Inc. 5000 list is any indication, the economy seems to be rewarding companies that are taking a personal approach and delivering customized solutions to consumers, nutritional status tests included. An article published late last year in Frontiers in Nutrition said the vision for personalized nutrition has stimulated an immense interest for advancements in the diagnostics and decision support systems that allow continuous assessments of nutritional status.
Today, there are so many options that enable us to take care of ourselves, from apps, to virtual medical consultations, to home testing of all kinds. Add to this the growing trend of “personalizing” everything from vitamin regimens to prepared meals to snacks and clothing services.
The challenge with nutrition is that each person has their own unique needs. Gone are the days when multivitamins provided low level health insurance for most people — there is no one-size fits all approach anymore. Turns out that everyone at every age has unique nutritional needs, especially when it comes to omega-3s.
And the truth is you shouldn’t stand for blindly eating your omega-3-rich seafood or taking your omega-3 supplements and hoping for the best. You should know whether your products are working for you. And only an Omega-3 Index test can tell you that.