Episode 3 with Dr. Bill Harris
Dr. Bill Harris discusses the mission and early findings – on COVID-19 and LDL-cholesterol – from the new Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI). Hear how a group of global scientists are poised to examine relationships between fatty acids, primarily EPA and DHA omega-3, and human health, then skillfully communicate their findings to the public.
- Omega 3 Index (3:05)
- Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI) (4:48)
- Exploring the role of omega-3 in COVID-19 (8:24)
- FARI’s recently accepted and published papers (13:23)
- LDL cholesterol levels and omega-3 supplements (14:07)
- Heart Rate Recovery (15:01)
- Upcoming research at FARI (16:17)
- Comparing Omega 3 Index as a predictor to cardiac outcomes (17:41)
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- Dr. Bill Harris
Any statements on this podcast are the opinion of the scientific guest and/or author and have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition, we suggest you consult with your health care professional.
This is nutrition we’re talking about. We’re not talking about medicine, and nutrition is in your control as a consumer.
Hello, and welcome to the science and the story behind omega three, a podcast brought to you by Wiley companies, where we explore one of the most research nutrients on the planet. Listen in as global omega three experts and researchers translate the science, reveal personal insights and share their stories of discovery while navigating the sea of omega three science. Thanks for joining us today. Now, here’s your host, Greg Lindsey.
Yes, and welcome to another episode of the science and the story behind omega three where we talk with experts from all over the world. And I am so excited today My guest is one of the most influential omega three researchers on the planet since 1980. His research is focused on omega three fatty acids and human lipid metabolism, platelet function, cardiovascular and neurocognitive disease. And most recently, he founded the fatty acid Research Institute, a nonprofit entity to foster research on the connections between fatty acids and Health. Dr. Harris, it is my great pleasure to have you on our program today.
Welcome. Oh, happy to be here. Thanks. Great.
So you’ve had an extraordinary 40 year career in liquid nutrition and human health. There’s so much we can talk about today. But we’re really here to talk about your latest venture, the new nonprofit you launched last fall, the fatty acid Research Institute or fari, fari will work with global scientists to accelerate the discovery of the relationships between omega three and human health. But before we get into that, could you please just tell us a little bit about how you first got interested in fatty acids?
Oh, sure. That goes back as you said, 40 years. I got interested in it because I was told to get interested in it by my, my mentor for my postdoc, Dr. Bill O’Connor, in Portland, Oregon. That was when I arrived there in 78. And he was very interested in the effects of, of salmon oil on blood cholesterol levels. And we knew a lot about vegetable oils and their effects on cholesterol. We knew stuff about animal fats and their effects on cholesterol. We didn’t know much about fish oils. And so Dr. caner was interested in that and he’s assigned me to do a project on that that was my introduction to omega three, because we fed people lots and lots of salmon oil and salmon. And it was a
baptism by fire says you gravitated through your career, I know you’re the CO creator of the omega three index. And can you tell us a little bit about the omega three index, what it is, and then how it will influence your work at fari?
Sure, sure. Omega three index is a blood marker of omega three status, we can measure it with a just a drop of blood on a piece of filter paper or a blood tube any way you want. Basically, it’s the amount of EPA and d h A contained in red blood cell membranes is is expressed as a percent like percent of the total fatty acids that are EPA ndhca. So a typical American might have four or 5% of red blood cell omega three fatty acids as EPA DJ, a typical Japanese might have a nine or 10%. So it’s about twice as high. So it’s a validated status marker, it tells you how the all the organs in your body are really all the tissues in your body, perhaps except the brain, which is very tough to to get out. But how, how much omega three they have on board and we use that at fari as really our principal measure of when we ask the question, Well, is there a relationship between a person’s omega threes blood status, tissue status, and their risk for developing a disease? x disease fill in the blank disease? Yeah, so that’s it’s really our key. But what they call in epidemiology our major of exposure is the omega three level.
I feel like there could be another program just specifically to that one. But as I as I get back to fari, I had mentioned that you work with global scientists to accelerate the discovery of relationships between omega threes and human health and I just like you to tell us more about that.
Sure, yeah. So fari was something we came up with toward the end of last year, seemed like a real need. And because there’s tremendous amounts of data available from many, many studies. That is just locked away in databases waiting to be mined. And it just takes somebody time to do it. And so what we decided to do was create this institute, a nonprofit institute that includes Dr. Nathan tinsel, really, who is the Executive Director, he is a biostatistician by training, and he does all of our biostat work. And that is the critical feature in all these types of studies, you’ve got to have a good biostatistician, who can do the proper analysis to link whether it be in omega three levels in the blood to risk for death from any cause risk for COVID risk for dementia risk for heart attacks or any of those diseases we can follow. So Nathan is a key component to our research institute. And then we have several scientists who are also involved who are wanting to Korea one in Italy, one in Spain, one in Canada, and another one in, in Iowa, here in the US. So we are a global group of individuals very interested in fatty acid disease relationships.
I’ve really enjoyed reading about fari. To this point, maybe you can explain fariz relevance, not only for scientist in nutrition enthusiasts, but maybe for the public at large as well. Well, yeah, that’s
our I think one of the challenges for us is to be able to, or for any scientist, actually to be able to communicate the importance of nutritional concepts to the public. We are, whether we’re good at that or not remains to be seen. But we are certainly seeking support for the mission of our institute, from anybody and everybody, we would love to find support from people in the industry, the omega three industry like this, because what we do certainly builds a scientific case under pinning the kind of products they typically sell. But there’s a lot of just individuals around the world who are just interested in personal health now, and they want to feel like they can do something to help that. And we I’m sure we’re one of hundreds of organizations that are somewhat pitching, sort of a GoFundMe idea, which is what we’re going to be launching here fairly soon for fari.
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So Dr. Harris, top of mind to our listeners right now is COVID-19. And as I understand it, people think vitamin C, they think of vitamin D, and zinc is key nutrients for healthy immune and respiratory function. But if I understand it correctly, you’re investigating the role of omega three in COVID-19. And can you first tell us why you’re exploring the role of omega three and COVID? And then how you were doing this?
Yeah. Great question. The why is because we know for many other studies that the primary mechanism of action, or one of the major mechanisms of action of omega three in the body is anti inflammatory. And the omega threes can quiet down an inflammatory response, so it doesn’t get out of hand. And there’s good humans studies that show that there’s animal studies that show that there’s just basic biochemistry studies that show that. So there’s a deep mechanistic, I guess you call it rationale for thinking that omega three would help and COVID because COVID, the primary problem with COVID is not the infection as much as it is the body’s excessive response to the inflammatory response to the infection. And so we think there’s a reason that high omega three ought to be associated with lower risk for for adverse or bad outcomes with COVID. We don’t know whether high omega three would actually prevent the infection in the first place. We don’t have any rationale for that. But for people who once are infected, we think that the anti inflammatory effects of these omega threes would do it. And so how are we doing this study? It’s the same way we do a lot of studies is we get blood omega three index majored in people in this case who were admitted to a hospital with COVID. And we are partnering with a researcher at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. And they have of course, many patients With COVID, we hear about it all the time, we were able to get a, just a quick look able to get 100 data from 100 patients who were admitted with COVID, then they were probably admitted back in the summertime, blood samples from these patients were saved in what they call a biobank. So hospitals are storing up blood samples of people who have certain diseases for just for this type of research to be done, we were able to get a hold of those major the omega three index in those 100 samples. And then we we looked at the primary thing we looked at was who died. That’s pretty simple outcome. That’s one that nobody has any problem deciding whether it’s, that’s what happened or not. And so what we saw, and this has just been, we written a paper, and we’ve published it online, it’s waiting right now at a journal under to get peer reviewed. But it’s available for people to see what we did. Anyway, we found that if you, you rank the 100 patients that we have omega three index on, you rank him into highest to lowest, and then divide them into four groups of 25. So we would call core tiles 25% of each group of the 100. And each group in the highest quartile, there was one death. In the bottom three quartiles, there were 13 deaths. When we did our statistics on that and took into account the age of the people which varied force, age and sex, we found that there was a about a 75%, lower risk of dying from COVID. If you had an omega three index in the top quartile, now, the top quartile the top 25% was from a value of 5.7%. That higher, which is pretty normal level in America, actually, that’s in this cohort in Los Angeles, it’s kind of a low on average omega three level, but it’s what we had all we had to work with. And we did find that over 5.7, there was a reduction in risk. The other way of looking at it is the relative risk of dying of COVID was about four times higher if you were below 5.7%. That’s a different way of saying it. So this was not quite statistically significant. By standard routine, we typically we say it’s under to be statistically significant as 3.05 or less. Our value is point O seven. But we think that’s for a pilot study, a preliminary Look, that’s a pretty good indication that there probably is something there. And we thought we wanted to get that information out to the public, or really, primarily to the research community so that others can pursue it as well, because we need everybody looking at this question.
Wow, that is that is very interesting. I guess if we shift gears to other projects that you already have underway, I believe the health areas that fari is already investigating are Alzheimer’s disease, LDL cholesterol levels to menopausal hormone therapy and prostate cancer. So on these topics, I’d love to learn a little bit more about fariz focus in some of these areas.
Yeah, yeah, we do have a lot of things going. And I guess I can talk about a couple of three papers that have been accepted and published so far, one week, we’ve done now three studies with in collaboration with the Cooper clinic, the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, founded by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, many years 750 years ago. So this is a clinic that’s been very early on bought into the importance of measuring the omega three index in their patients. And so we have 10 years of data of people who have been to the Cooper clinic for evaluation, health evaluations, health and fitness evaluations. And they have kept good data. And so we’ve asked some questions about omega three levels as they relate to other markers, and one of them is LDL cholesterol. There has been this concern floating around that people that take omega three supplements and thereby raise their omega three index might also raise their level of bad cholesterol, called the LDL cholesterol fraction and the blood. And so we tested that hypothesis within this, the Cooper group. And we found that that was not true, that people who had increases in omega three level between two visits actually had statistically as a drop in LDL cholesterol. There certainly was not a rise. So that was an important finding, I think to say that the general people who want to just take fish oil supplements just to reduce their risk for heart disease and other adverse outcomes don’t need to worry about raising their LDL cholesterol. By taking fish oil, it’s not a problem. We also looked at Had a thing called heart rate recovery in the Cooper data set and and published a paper on this. And heart rate recovery is simply how fast your heart rate heads back down toward normal after you’ve been exercising. And so all these patients that we have blood from did a exercise treadmill test as part of their Cooper workout. And we measure again, when when they get to their maximum heart rate, they stop exercising, and then we check how fast their heart rate slows down. And a very healthy heart will slow down quickly. A heart that’s not a person that’s not in good shape, and their heart is not responding as it should, will take longer time for their heart rate to drop. So we looked at the omega three index as it relates to how fast the heart rate came down and found that yet another sign of good health with omega three a higher omega three was associated significantly with a faster drop in heart rate, which was a good thing. So those kinds of studies we’ve been doing with Cooper,
how about some possibly new things on the horizon for fari? Are there things that you’re looking forward to in the future that might be in the 2021 or 2022? calendar?
Yeah, we’re really interested to look at the question of, you know, we’ve kind of focused on omega three fatty acids, but we Major 2728 different fatty acids, we major in the red blood cell fatty acid pattern. So a bigger question is, is there some pattern of fatty acids, that’s predictive of better outcomes, health outcomes, if not just the omega three, maybe there’s some others there that that we just need to discover? Because our belief is that there is important health information that’s contained within this pattern of fingerprint of fatty acids in a red cell. And so we are looking at what we call our fingerprint study. And we’re doing that within the context of the Framingham Heart Study where we have lots of data on on people there, it just early Look at this, we already know that we can be as accurate in predicting who is at risk for death in the Framingham study, by just looking at for fatty acids in the red cell as we can if if we know their cholesterol, their blood pressure, their diabetes status, or smoking status, age and sex, the fatty acids alone will tell us as much as all those biomarkers together, which is amazing to me. So anyway, that that sort of study is being done, we’re also interested in kind of in the same way of comparing the omega three index per se, to blood pressure as a predictor of cardiac outcomes to cholesterol levels as a predictor of cardiac outcomes to smoking as a predictor of cardiac outcomes. How important is a high omega three compared to these other risk factors that we all know and agree, blood pressure as a predictor of cardiac outcomes to cholesterol levels as a predictor of cardiac outcomes to smoking as a predictor of cardiac outcomes? How important is a high omega three compared to these other risk factors that we all know and agree are things that are we need to control in order to improve our health? So I want to make the point that the omega three level is not that it’s better than all these other things, but it’s at least as good as then it’s something people ought to be measuring.
So along those lines, and what does that mean, for the average citizen or consumer that is thinking about taking omega three in some form?
Well, it means that we just we back up, you know, what is it that determines that raises that omega three index? How do you get an omega three index up and what we think is a healthy range, which is about 8%? Again, typical Americans might be around 5%. So how do you get up at 8%? Well, you have to change your eating habits, or you have to change your supplementation habits, because you just don’t make the EPA nbha out of thin air, you have to eat them. And the reason for example, the Japanese have a very high levels, they eat a lot of EPA and DHS. And that’s, that’s just the the bottom line of how you’re going to improve your omega three index, it’s got to eat more. So the average consumer, what are they going to do with a low omega three, they are going to either if they want to improve their health, long term health, they will start to eat more fish that are rich in EPA ndhca or and or take a dietary supplement that has EPA and DOJ and
so with 40 plus years in your career, I’m going to ask you the question of what additional information would you like to share with our listeners about me get three about a mega quad. And then I’d love for you to share how our listeners can find out more information about fari?
Sure, well, I think the most important take home message is you can manage your own. There, there are parts of your health that you can manage yourself, you don’t really need a doctor to tell you that your omega three level is too low, you can do it yourself, you don’t need a doctor to tell you how to improve it. This is this is nutrition we’re talking about, we’re not talking about medicine. And nutrition is in your control as a consumer. And so you can know what your status is, and you can control it, you can do something about it, it’s completely within your purview to do that. So you mentioned omega quantum mega quantum is laboratory, I found it around 12 years ago, where we measure omega three index, we do it with Dr. bloodspot cards, as I mentioned, we just send out kits in the mail and people pick their finger at home and put a drop of blood on their the card and mail, then we send them the omega three index, we do the same for vitamin D, by the way, we can measure vitamin D levels as well. So that’s one way to get your omega three index that’s we’re really the only lab in the country that’s offering the omega three index specifically. So we obviously like to have people use that service, they go to omega quantum.com to do that. As far as our research institute fari The URL is fA r e s i n s t.com. So fatty acid Research Institute abbreviated.com. And there are people can find out more information about the studies we’re doing how to support us what projects we’re working on. Well, Dr. Harris,
thank you so much for being here today. I always love talking with you. And I’d love to talk with you on future episodes, because I think we’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg with a lot of different topics today. We but I wanted to make fari the focus because it’s it’s fascinating, the Institute, the founded and it’s fascinating to me the work you’re doing. And would you be willing to come back for a future show?
Yeah, sure. Let’s talk about appreciate it.
Well, thank you so much. And thank you to our listeners today. And as always be healthy, be well and fight the good fight.
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Any statements on this podcast are the opinion of the scientific guests and author and have not yet been evaluated by the FDA. The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition we suggest you consult with your healthcare professional.