Omega-3 vs. Omega-6

What’s the big deal?

Have you ever wondered why omega-3 supplementation is so widely recommended by health practitioners these days? Or, why it is considered an essential nutrient? Or, why Americans are so deficient in omega-3?

The truth is, not only are Americans deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, this deficiency is actually killing us. Below is an abstract with a brief explanation on why the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 should be addressed in our society.

Abstract: Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 whereas in Western diets [Standard American Diet] the ratio is 15/1-16.7/1. Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns were established. Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects. In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality. A ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer, whereas a ratio of 4/1 with the same amount of omega-3 PUFA had no effect. The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk. A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma, whereas a ratio of 10/1 had adverse consequences. These studies indicate that the optimal ratio may vary with the disease under consideration. This is consistent with the fact that chronic diseases are multigenic and multifactorial. Therefore, it is quite possible that the therapeutic dose of omega-3 fatty acids will depend on the degree of severity of disease resulting from the genetic predisposition. A lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies, as well as in the developing countries, that are being exported to the rest of the world.

Nutshell Version: A diet high in omega-3s prevent and lower the risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancers, auto-immune diseases, asthma, age related Alzheimer’s disease, etc. A diet high in omega-6s, increases inflammation, which increases chronic diseases, which increases mortality [death].

You are what you eat: Omega-6s are found in grains (corn is the most commonly consumed source). Our meat sources eat more grain than grass (in contrast from our ancestors, who consumed primarily grass-fed animals). Therefore, our consumption of grains and grain-fed animals increases our omega-6 intake, leading to more inflammation, and more chronic diseases. For this reason, grass-fed animals are actually healthier to consume (due to being higher in omega-3s, creating less inflammation in our bodies). But, if you are looking for a meat source to specifically increase your omega-3 intake, look for seafood. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc. are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can be found in several non-meat sources as well, such as flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency Infographic

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