Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are two families of polyunsaturated fats that the body needs. Each family of molecules has numerous cellular duties, and their ratio in the diet governs their proportion in tissues. Omega-6s produce hormones that enhance inflammation (vital to immune response), cell propagation and blood clotting while Omega-3s produce hormones that reduce these functions. To attain optimal health, the two families must coexist in equilibrium.
Genetic patterns have established that human beings maintained the Omegas6 to Omega-3 ratio of one to one traditionally. A look at history also shows that the hunting-gathering societies were devoid of inflammatory ailments like cancer, heart disease, autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases. The existing modern diet contains exceptionally high levels of Omega-6 and hardly any Omega-3s, with the result that people tend to have a ratio ranging from 15:1to as high as 16:7.1 This explains why inflammation rooted diseases plague modern Western societies. The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is in the range of 1:1 and 4:1.2
An imbalance between the two families may promote depression, hyperactivity, obesity and a host of other diseases while maintaining a balance may alleviate these ailments. Dr. Joseph Hibbeln M.D, (a National Institute of Health psychiatrist and world authority on fat ingestion and mental health), cited a British prison study at a Nutrition and Health Conference sponsored by the University of Arizona's College of Medicine and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in which prison violence went down by 37% when the prisoners’ diet was supplemented with Omega-3s.3 A large amount of data exists that supports the benefits of reducing the Omega-6 to 3 ratio for reducing the risk of many diseases.
So how does one achieve a balance between the two omegas? That is a two pronged strategy. Step one is to minimize the use of vegetable oils and products in which it is contained. This means avoiding sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils as they all contain loads of omega-6. The next step is to increase the intake of foods that are rich in Omega-3s, namely fatty fish like salmon or tuna, and plant food like cauliflower, chia and flex seeds, or walnuts. Lastly if you can’t manage to get sufficient quantities of Omega-3 rich foods in your diet then consider taking fish oil supplements.
- Simopoulos AP. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70:560S-569S.