A balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is essential to promoting and maintaining health. According to Artemis Simpoulos, M.D., President of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington D.C. and co-author of The Omega Plan (Harper Collins, 1998), “The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the typical Western diet is betweeen 10-to-1 and 21-to-1, whereas the diet humans evolved on had a ratio of 1-to-1. One of the most important medical findings of recent years is that eating a balanced ratio of EFAs brings your diet back in sync with your genes and helps you experience optimal health.”
Current thinking is that omega-6 and omega-3 fats need to be balanced in the diet at a ratio of 1-to-1 or 2-to-1. And the best way to do that is to supplement your diet with an excellent fish oil nutritional supplement, and/or eat fish several times a week.
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids should be distinguished because they are metabolically and functionally distinct, as well as having opposing physiological functions, says Simpoulos. “Omega-3s and omega-6s work differently in the body. When they’re in balance, they’re both very good. When the omega-6s are in excess, they become bad.”
Here’s what happens: omega-3s produce hormone-like eicosanoids that are anti-inflammatory. These eicosanoids help support normal blood pressure by relaxing the arteries and blood vessels and decreasing blood lipids. They also decrease blood clotting factors and support immune function.
Omega-6s, however, can produce both anti-inflammatory and/or inflammatory and vasoconstricting eicosanoids. To oversimplify just a bit: omega-6s are good for you if you take them in the right amount with omega-3s. However, in the absence of omega-3s they can be very bad indeed.
Too many omega-6s in your diet in the absence of sufficient omega-3s can produce potent inflammatory agents that set the stage for autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, and a host of other health problems.
But the eicosanoids produced by omega-3s help inhibit the production of these inflammatory agents. To clarify further: LA gets made into GLA, then into DGLA and then into either AA (arachidonic acid), which then gets made into inflammatory eicosanoids, or the DGLA gets made into a series of VERY BENEFICIAL eicosanoids that have, among other effects, antiviral and anti-vaso-constrictive effects.
What determines whether DGLA goes to AA or to the beneficial eicosanoids?
Well, low EPA and high insulin will cause DGLA to go to AA (that’s why Americans have such high levels of AA; we make it in our own bodies). If you have good levels of EPA and low insulin (by doing an insulin-smart diet) then your body will NOT make AA from DGLA … instead the DGLA will get made into the beneficial eicosanoids.
So, in a word, to turn omega-6 fats into a positive biological reaction, you take omega-3s! Confusing enough yet?
Even though omega-6 is an essential fatty acid, too much of it can do more harm than good. Insulin encourages the conversion of (omega-6) Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) into arachidonic acid. So does consumption of sugar, alcohol, saturated fats and trans-fatty acids, diabetes, aging, stress, and some prescription medications. Low levels of EPA also strongly encourage the conversion of omega-6 into AA. In essence, everything about the modern Western World diet encourages the conversion of dietary LA into heart disease causing AA! The solution? Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates and take fish oil!
Read more about Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids here: