Both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are essential for good health. They’re required for the optimal functioning of the brain, heart and immune system. But – and this is a big But – the Omega6:Omega3 ratio needs to be in balance. Omega 3 is well known as the anti-inflammatory fatty acid. Less well known is that Omega 6 in excess causes inflammation. When we have a higher concentration of Omega 6 in our system, it’s impossible for the body to be inflammation free.
The Perfect Omega 6: Omega 3 Ratio
Human beings have evolved to have an Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio of 1:1. This perfect balance means that our immune systems are able to produce just the right amount of inflammation for healing injuries and fighting bacterial and viral invasions, and are then able to reduce the inflammation quickly once the job is done. The World Health Organization recommends a ratio of 4:1 for cardiovascular health. But across Europe, the average ratio is 15:1, and in the USA, the average is 25:1. Note: they’re average figures, which means some people are living with much higher states of imbalance.
Chronic Systemic Inflammation is a direct result of these vast imbalances in the Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio. To understand what happens, we can use the common analogy of arsonists and firefighters. Imagine arsonists (Omega 6) and firefighters (Omega 3) running around in your body. If there are enough firefighters to put out the flames every time an arsonist lights a match, then there’s no problem. But if there are too many arsonists and not enough firefighters, it’s simply not possible to put out the fire. When the situation of too-much-fire-too-few-firefighters becomes chronic, the immune system will eventually become weak and confused from constantly overworking. Disease will result.
The problem is exacerbated by other factors. One is that often we aren’t aware that we’re already suffering from Chronic Systemic Inflammation – the symptoms have become so common that we think they’re normal. Another is that often people aren’t motivated to take preventative measures until they’re completely debilitated by pain, diagnosed with a horrible disease, and at risk of death. At this point, either the damage is irreversible, or the road back to health is long and difficult. What’s more, this creates unfathomable costs to the public and private health systems, and burdens families and intimates with financial and emotional stress.
The mission of those of us who work in the Health and Wellness sector is to drive home the message that Prevention is Better than Cure, and that the problems associated with Omega 6 imbalance and Chronic Systemmic Inflammation are unneccessary and can be avoided.
What’s happened to throw Omega 6 and Omega 3 Off-Balance?
It’s important to know that both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are essential fatty acids, which means the body can’t produce them on it’s own. We have to receive them from the diet. Up until the 1960s, the average Omega:Omega 3 ratio was 4:1. This was because food was grown naturally, livestock was raised on pasture, and fish were caught wild from the sea. (It’s interesting to note that the World Health Organization recommends a return to the average ratio of the 1960’s: 4:1).
After the1960s, everything changed. Small farmers were engulfed by huge agribusiness enterprises. Plants were modified for disease resistance and to produce fast-to-harvest crops. Fruit and vegetables became bigger and shinier. Most significantly, the food manufacturing industry found ways of producing products which could last for weeks, months or years on the supermarket shelves without going rancid.
Livestock and fish were taken out of their natural surroundings to be born and bred in Concentrated Animal Feeding Organisations (CAFO), where they are raised on food which they are not designed to eat – along with, of course, the hormones for fast growth and anitbiotics to combat the inevitable outbreaks of disease that occur when organisms live in overcrowded situations.
And this, basically, is the crux of the matter: we’re consuming food and food-like substances which we have not evolved to eat.
A lot – and in many situations, most – of the food that we’re consuming is not only nutritionally poor, but also contains significant amounts of inflammatory substances. One of the most important of these inflammatory substances is Omega 6.
Which foods are high in Omega 6?
Omega 6 is found in high concentrations in refined vegetable oils. This includes oils derived from sunflower, peanut, canola, corn, soybean, safflower, grapeseed and cottonseed.
What this means is that Omega 6 is high in manufactured, processed and restaurant foods. Anything fried or conserved in vegetable oil is high in Omega 6. Many products on the supermarket shelves are high in Omega 6. Baked goods such as cookies, crackers and cakes, potato crisps, pizza, salad dressings and mayonnaise made with vegetable oils are all high in Omega 6. All those bottles of vegetable oils in the supermarkets which are labeled as ‘Great for Frying’ are high in Omega 6. Moreover, meat from animals and poultry that are raised on grains are high in Omega 6.
There are safe oils derived from plants. Olive Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil and Macadamia Nut Oil are all healthy, stable sources of fats and antioxidants. So, stock your pantry with these oils, and eliminate the rest.
What exactly is the problem with high Omega 6?
Both Omega 3 and Omega 6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are very unstable. They oxidise and go rancid when exposed to light, heat and the air – all of which are involved in the refining and production processes. It’s worth remembering that vegetable oils are already rancid before you even open the bottle. Cooking with them only makes things worse. Ingesting these oils promotes oxidative (free radical) damage to cells and tissues in the body, resulting in an inflammatory response by the immune system. As mentioned earlier, when the inflammatory response gets out of control, the result is Chronic Systemic Inflammation. Chronic Systemic Inflammation is at the base of all modern disease. We’re talking about premature ageing, skin and heart disease, liver damage, immune dysfunction and cancer.
Tell Me the Good News about Omega 6 and Omega 3
The good news is that we can actively reduce our Omega 6 levels through wise dietary choices, and actively increase our Omega 3 levels with a good quality supplement. Of course, we can also increase our Omega 3 through eating Omega 3 rich foods… but we’d need to eat around 2 kilos / 1 pound of wild – not farmed! – cold water fatty fish each week to balance the score. Fresh food is always best, but often a quality supplement is easier and cheaper.
Are All Omega 3 Supplemets the Same?
The problem with Omega 3 supplements is that, through the refining process of the oil, which includes neutralisaton, bleaching, winterisation and deodorisation, all of the naturally occuring polyphenols are removed. Polyphenols are antioxidants. They stabilize the oil and optimize the bioavailability of the Omega 3. To put it simply, without the polyphenols, the oil quickly goes rancid, and even while it is good, the body can’t effectively metabolize it.
What this means is that you need to ensure that your Omega 3 Supplement is enriched with polyphenols.
Can You Recommend a Good Omega 3 Supplement?
Yes, I can recommend an excellent Omega 3 Supplement.
Please click through to the post Top Quality Omega 3 Supplement: Zinzino Balance Oil – A Review.
Read more about the Omega 6:Omega 3
Evolutionary Aspects of Diet, the Omega 6:Omega 3 Ratio and genetic variation – A scientific study in PDF format, by A.P Simopolous, 2006.
Which Fats are Good Fats and Which Fats are Ugly? – More essential reading. The healthy fats need to be consumed in abundance. The unhealthy fats should be avoided like the plague.
Omega 3 in Your Body – Good article which explains Omega 6: Omega 3 research in Inuit communities, the refining process, and the importance of the polyphenols when it comes to the bioavailablity of Omega 3 from fish oil.
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