Finding your inner balance: omega 3 and 6 fatty acids

You might be getting ripped off by your omega supplement because more isn’t always better.  I’ve seen supplements providing a “balanced” ratio of omegas, with both omega-3 & -6 fatty acids.  But do you really need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your supplement?

Although the terms omega-3 and omega-6 sounds similar, they actually function as opposites.  Think of them like yin and yang, where you need to strike a balance.  Omega-3 fatty acids are calming, while omega-6s are the more aggressive counterpart.  Since omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids compete for the same enzymes, the level of one affects the activity of the other.  Included below is a chart summarizing key differences between omega-3 and omega-6 fat.

yang yin2 

Dietary Imbalance:

While we need a balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, we actually get too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acids in our diet – the typical ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in western diets is 15/1 – 20/1.  However, in the past (during the Paleolithic period) it’s thought that humans consumed an omega ratio that was closer to 1:1 (which is similar to the ratio that wild animals consume).  Scientists believe that reducing our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids will provide numerous health benefits.  So the issue with taking a supplement containing both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, is that most people are getting WAY too many omega-6 fatty acids already.  And ideally you would get your omega fatty acids from food anyways.

Environmental Concerns:

To top it off, the negative effects of a diet containing too high of a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids may be further compounded by the presence of environmental chemicals.  In vitro research suggests that a high level of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid increases vascular damage from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

It is important to consume more omega-3 fatty acids to help correct the common dietary imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.  Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fatty fish (ie. salmon, sardines and herring): provide large amounts of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA which have the strongest anti-inflammatory effects
  • Omega-3 eggs
  • Flaxseed: should be ground so that the omega-3 fatty acids are available to the body
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Leafy greens: contain small amount of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Beef from cows that are grass-fed has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids

Benefits of Getting a Good Balance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids Include:

  • Protect against cardiovascular disease, by lowering bad cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.
  • Brain, nerve and eye development in infants
  • Aid cognitive function
  • Help manage depression and stress in adults
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to promote relaxation and sleeping through the night
  • Reduce joint pain, including pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis

I hope this helps you on your journey to finding health through nutritional balance!

If you would like to read more on Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, this article is a great place to start.