Omega 6 and Omega 3 – The Necessary Balance
Both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are required for the optimal functioning of the brain, the heart and the immune system. They’re essential for overall health, but most importantly they’re key players with regards to inflammation. Omega 3 is well known as the anti-inflammatory fatty acid. Less well known is that Omega 6 in excess causes inflammation. For this reason, the ratio beween them needs to be balanced. When we have a higher concentration of Omega 6, it’s literally impossible for the body to be inflammation free.
Human beings have evolved to have an Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio of 1:1. This perfect balance means that our immune system is able to produce just the right amount of inflammation for healing injuries and fighting invaders, and is then able to quickly reduce the inflammation once the job is done.
The World Health Organization recommends a ratio of 4:1 for cardiovascular health but in Europe the average ratio is 15:1 and in the USA the average is 25:1. They’re average figures, which means some people are living with much higher states of imbalance.
These enormous imbalances contribute in no small way to Chronic Systemic Inflammation.
Arsonists and Firefighters
To understand what happens when the Omega 6 and Omega 3 are unbalanced, we can use the common analogy of arsonists and firefighters. Imagine that arsonists (Omega 6) and firefighters (Omega 3) are running around in your body. If there are enough firefighters to put out the flames every time an arsonist lights a match, 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 becomes chronic, the immune system will eventually become weak and confused. Disease will result.
Why have Omega 6 and Omega 3 been thrown off-balance?
Just like the story about dietary fats and cholesterol, to understand why the Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio has become so wildly unbalanced, we need to return to the 1960’s. Remember 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 food was grown naturally, livestock was raised on pasture, and fish were caught wild from the sea. The average Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio was 4:1… the same that the World Health Organization recommends we return to.
After the 1960s, everything changed.
- Small farmers were engulfed by huge agribusiness enterprises.
- Plants were modified for disease resistance and for the producution of fast-to-harvest crops.
- Fruit and vegetables became bigger and shinier.
- Vegetable oils and trans fats entered the scene. They allowed the food manufacturing industry to produce products which could last for weeks, months or years on the supermarket shelves without going rancid. Fast food chains and restaurants began using these oils for cooking and frying. They were promoted by the government health agencies as preferable to saturated animal fats.
- 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: both we and the animals that we’re eating are consuming food and food-like substances which we haven’t evolved to eat. A lot – and in many situations, most – of the calories that we’re consuming are not only nutritionally poor but also contain significant amounts of inflammatory substances. One of the most significant of these is Omega 6.
Which Foods are High in Omega 6?
Omega 6 is found in high concentrations in refined vegetable and seed oils. This includes oils derived from sunflower, peanut, canola, corn, soybean, safflower, grapeseed and cottonseed. Because the food industry is so dependent on these oils, levels of Omega 6 are high in all manufactured, processed and restaurant foods.
- Packaged foods from the supermarket
- Baked goods: biscuits, crackers and cakes, chips, pizza
- Condiments: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup
- Vegetable oils in general
- Oil which is labeled as “Good for Frying”
- Fast food: Burger King, McDonalds, Hungry Jacks, Kentucky Fried Chicken etc
- Food from restaurants, pubs, trattorias, cafes
- Meat, poultry and eggs from animals that are raised on cereals and grains
Just to be clear, not all oils that are derived from vegetables and seeds are high in Omega 6. Olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and macadamia nut oil are all healthy sources of fat and antioxidants. We need to prioritise the consumption of these oils and eliminate the rest.
As we saw in the overview of the fat families, Omega 6 and Omega 3 are polyunsaturated fatty acids and the PUFAs are very unstable. They oxidise and go rancid when exposed to light, heat and 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 resulting in an inflammatory response by the immune system. And when the inflammatory response gets out of control, the result is Chronic Systemic Inflammation.
The Good News
The good news is that we can actively reduce our Omega 6 levels through wise dietary choices and increase our Omega 3 levels with a good quality supplement. We can also increase our Omega 3 through eating Omega 3 rich foods but it’s difficult to eat adequate quantities of wild caught salmon and sardines. Fresh food is always best, but often a quality supplement is easier and cheaper.
A good quality supplement will not smell fishy, nor will it leave a foul aftertaste – those are both indications that the unstable PUFA oils have gone rancid. Through the processes of getting the oil out of the fish and into a bottle or capsule, they’re stripped of their polyphenols (antioxidants) which in their natural state prevent them from oxidising. A good quality supplement will have added the polyphenols back into the oil thus making it much more stable, both in the the bottle or capsules and in our bodies. So, it’s not just a case of buying any old supplement: we need to make sure that the nutrients are bioavailable and easily assimilated.
Which Omega 3 Oil do You Recommend?
I recommend Zinzino Balance Oil. We’ve been using it since 2019. It contains antioxidants, Vitamin D, the flavours are palatable, the customer service is excellent, and they have a loyalty program. What’s more, they offer the option of a blood test whereby you can monitor the levels of your fatty acid balance, thus demonstrating the effectiveness of the product.
My best advice is to become a Premium Customer. That way you receive the best price. If your bottles of oil are accumulating, simply write to customer service and ask them to put your order on hold for a few months: that way you maintain your status as Premium.
I hope this series of posts has convinced you about the devastating effects of excess carbohydrates and unhealthy oils. I hope you’re feeling relieved that inflammation can be reduced and a damaged gut can heal. And I hope you’re feeling excited about transforming your metabolism from Sugar Burner to Fat Burner… but before we dig into the details about how to be a healthy human, we need to address the other silent killer: Stress.
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Firefighter and Burning House Photo by Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash | Scales Photo by Piret Ilver on Unsplash | Agribusiness Photo by Marta Ortigosa on Unsplash | Frying Photo by Wine Dharma on Unsplash | Woman Photo by Fabian Centeno on Unsplash