Omega 3 & Omega 6

Originally the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet was 1:1, but nowadays it is around 15:1 or even higher, which is not good for our health.

There are three kinds of polyunsaturated fatty acids: omega-3, -6 and -9. Omega-3 and -6 are termed essential fatty acids because the body cannot create them by itself, and they must therefore be acquired through dietary consumption.

These fatty acids regulate a wide variety of biological functions, ranging from blood pressure and blood clotting to the optimal development and functioning of the brain, eye and nervous system. In addition, they play essential roles in regulating the immune and inflammatory responses.

The ratio today

Over the past few decades, in the typical Western diet, the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has increased and omega-3 decreased. In earlier times the ratio was 1:1, but nowadays it often is 15:1 or even higher.

This high ratio of omega-6 fatty acids is not desirable, as too much of it can contribute to pro-thrombotic processes such as clotting and also because they are pro-inflammatory. Because inflammation plays an important role in the development of chronic diseases, too much omega-6 plays a role in the predisposition toward, as well as the exacerbation of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, depression and many types of cancer.

Therefore, decreasing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 brings about a lower incidence of these chronic inflammatory diseases.

How does one achieve the optimal ratio?

Decreasing our omega-6 intake and increasing our consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can be accomplished by:

1. Replacing dietary vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (e.g. corn, sunflower, safflower, and cottonseed oils, shortening, margarine) with oils high in omega-3 fatty acids such as canola oil, which has a the ideal 2:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3.

2. Increasing our consumption of fatty fish to 2–3 times per week, can help us to decrease our consumption of red meat (esp. grain-fed beef and lamb), which is high in omega 6 fatty acids.