Omega 3 And Omega 6 Archives

It may pay to consider what your Omega 3 Omega 6 ratio is.

We talk a lot about Omega 3 essential fatty acids on our website, and for good reason, they’re extremely important to your health, as long as you get enough. But today we wanted to look at Omega 6 fatty acids, and what the Omega 3 Omega 6 ratio is. And how it affects you.

Omega 6 fats are also essential fatty acids. Omega 6 is like Omega 3, we can’t make it in our bodies and so we need to get Omega 6 from our diet. However unlike Omega 3 fatty acids, which 90% if us are deficient in, we are not generally deficient in Omega 6 fats. Omega 6 fats are important for a number of reasons, including for maintenance of growth and for good general health. They are important for maintaining the health of the cells in the brain.

Omega 6 fatty acids can also go by the names n-6 fatty acids, w6 fatty acids and linoleic acids.

So whilst we need Omega 6 EFAs in our diet just like we need Omega 3, most of us get enough, if not too much, or way too much.
Omega 6 oils

Omega 6 fats come from completely different sources than the Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 6 fats are found in plant sources like many of our oils, particularly corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil, sesame oil and peanut oil. Soybean oil is almost all Omega 6 fat.

And because many of these oils are used in the production of many of the processed foods we eat, like margarine, they are also found extensively in a wide range of foods we eat every day.

On top of that our meat is now higher in Omega 6 than it was. In the past our beef came from grass fed animals. Cows that eat grass are higher in Omega 3, because it’s found in grass. But now our animals are mainly grain fed, and as you can see the oils from grains are high in Omega 6. So our meat is now much higher in Omega 6 than it was.

Now on to the Omega 3 Omega 6 ratio. It is thought that some time ago we ate roughly as much Omega 3 as we ate Omega 6, That makes an Omega 3 Omega 6 ratio of 1:1. (And you need to change that.)

However our diets have swung much more in favor of a higher intake of Omega 6, and a much lower intake of Omega 3, from eating less fish and from less Omega 2 in meat.

Some scientists suggest that some of us may have an Omega 6 Omega 3 ratio that is as high as 10 times as much 6 as 3. So as you can see we don’t need any more Omega 6. Some estimates are even that some of us can be eating more than 20 times as much Omega 6 as 3, and we have even seen estimates of a ratio of 30 times as much Omega 6 as 3.

Although not fully understood it is thought that a diet high in 6 and low in 3 can lead to some health problems, and that our Omega 3 Omega 6 ratio should be somewhere much lower than it is now, perhaps around 1:3.

A high ratio, it is thought, can lead to thickening of the blood possibly leading to blood clots, a worsening of some autoimmune diseases and an increase in some inflammatory diseases, and more, including cancer. A lower ratio can is associated with a lower breast cancer risk. And there is a wide range of lifestyle diseases that are thought to be susceptible to a high ratio between the 2, including many that are related to inflammation in the body.

So there are 2 things you need to do if  you want to improve your ratio and lessen your risk of various diseases, some serious. You need to lower your intake of Omega 6 by lowering your intake of processed foods and oils, for instance by changing to good oils such as Olive Oil.

And you need to increase your intake of Omega 3 EFAs, by eating more fish or by daily supplementation with high quality fish oil supplements.

Remember, although all essential fatty acids are essential, that doesn’t mean you don’t get enough of them. It seems clear that we get quite enough Omega 6 fats, and that we need to be getting less of them.

Update: A study was undertaken in 2011 to actually identify how our consumption of Omega 6 has changed in the 20th century. Amongst the authors of the study was Joseph Hibbeln, who was have referred to on this site before. Dr Hibbeln is one of the more well known experts in the field of the health benefits of the Omega 3 fatty acids.

The study confirmed we have said here, that there has been a noticeable increase in the intake of Omega 6 fats over the last century.

In fact it was found that since 1909, where the omega 6 fats (as linoleic acide, the form found in the oils from seeds, which are high on our diet now) provided around 2.3 percent of daily calories, that figure has now increased, since 1999, to 7.2 percent, making a 213 percent increase over that 90 year period.

And there was a decrease in the intake of DHA and EPA.

And the study also noted that the consumption of oil from soybeans increased more than 1000 times, which, according to the authors has “likely decreased tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA during the 20th century”.

To read the study click here.

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More Omega3 fatty acids is good for you right? So More Omega 6 fatty acids must be good for you too, right? Wrong.

Healthy Omega fatty acids are not just restricted to DHA and EPA. There are in fact a number of Omega fats. One of these Omega  fats is an Omega 6 fatty acid, or LA. You would assume that if Omega 3 fatty acids are good for your health then Omega 6 fatty acids should also be good for your health, and that foods high in Omega 6 should be eaten in larger quantities.

Let’s examine the difference between Omega three fatty acids and Omega six fatty acids and see whether we should also increase our intake of foods high in Omega 6.

Omega 6 fats are what is known as essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are acids which the body needs and which cannot produce itself and therefore must come from the food that we eat. This includes both the Omega 3 fats as well as the Omega 6 fats.

All the Omega 3  and Omega 6 fatty acids are important to our health however our intake of our Omega6 fats has increased dramatically in the last 100 years. The US Department of agriculture has estimated that our intake of Omega 6 fatty acids has more than doubled in the last 100 years. Other estimates are even higher than this. Unfortunately our intake of Omega three fats has reduced dramatically during the same period.

The American Heart Association estimates that during this same period rates of heart disease in our population have increased dramatically. It draws a link between the decrease in intake of Omega 3 fatty acids and an increase in the intake of Omega 6 fatty acids and this increase in heart disease rates.Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Why would this be so? During the same period the Omega 3 Omega 6 ratio has changed dramatically in some of our most important food sources. Foods that traditionally had reasonable levels of beneficial Omega 3 fats have now become foods high in Omega 6. An example is meat.

In the past cows ate a diet of grass. This is a diet rich in Omega three fats found in the grass. Therefore the food products that are produced from cows, namely meat and dairy products, were high in Omega 3 fats. However cows now are mainly fed in feedlots and are fed a diet high in grains like corn and soy which produce a much higher level of Omega 6 in the meat and dairy products that result.

The same applies to chickens. Traditionally chickens ate grass and insects that ate grass and both of these produced chicken and eggs that were high in Omega 3. Now chickens are fed grains high in Omega 6 and the resultant meat and eggs are also higher in Omega six fatty acids and lower in Omega three fats.

Scientists also discovered around the middle of last century that some foods high in Omega 3, when processed, went rancid due to a process of oxidation of the Omega 3 fats. Rather than work out a way to stop the process of oxidation they simply removed the Omega threes from the foods not understanding at that time the importance of those healthy fats. So many of our foods declined in their normal Omega 3 content.

As you can see the Omega3 Omega6 ratio changed dramatically in the last 100 years so that we are now eating a diet much higher in Omega6 fatty acids. Accordingly the average American adult is not deficient in Omega six and should not be seeking to eat more foods high in Omega 6. In fact most American adults eat from 10 to 20 times more Omega 6 fatty acids than Omega threes.

The Omega 3 Omega 6 ratio has changed to the point where there is now recommendations that adults should reduce their intake of foods high in Omega 6 and increase their intake of foods high in Omega 3.

So what do you do? Where possible substitute corn and soy fed beef for grass fed beef. Often this is not possible. In this case it is worth reducing the intake of meat. The same applies to chicken and eggs. Where possible source organic or free range chickens and eggs that have been fed a diet that is high in more natural leafy foods such as grass and salad greens and a diet lower in grains.

And to redress the imbalance of intake of Omega 3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA you should be taking fish oil supplements daily, or eating more oily fish.

It always helps to eat a diet higher in oily fish and where possible grain fed beef should be reduced and fish intake increased to replace the beef. However the FDA advises us not to eat a lot of fish because fish is generally contaminated with toxins found in the ocean and ought not to be eaten in excessive quantities for this reason.

Accordingly the best way to have a good daily intake of Omega 3 fatty acids is to take fish oil supplements. The best fish oil supplements are totally free of toxins, however not all fish oil supplements are the same.

If you’re interested in finding more details about choosing the best Omega three supplements to read our article about how to compare fish oil supplements.

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