The omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of fatty acids is one of two primary causes of chronic inflammation in the human body.
What is inflammation? A normal process by which our bodies heal wounds and damage. However, inflammation can go wrong.
Many, if not most chronic diseases have turned out to be diseases of inflammation.
Rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and many others are diseases of inflammation. Even psychological disorders can stem from an imbalanced ratio.
What, your doctor didn’t tell you your unbalanced intake of fatty acids could be killing you? Whoops!
It’s probably not his fault – the official recommendations stemming from the lipid hypothesis have gotten people to replace saturated fat with significantly worse products.
Such as margarine, a huge source of Omega-6. This has led to studies repeatedly showing that people with a higher level of cholesterol often live longer.
Yup – the exact opposite of what we’ve been continuously told for several decades. Here’s a good introductory video.
The omega-3 to omega-6 ratio
Omega-3 and omega-6 are “essential” fatty acids. That means our body can’t synthesize them ourselves, so the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in our bodies is entirely dependent on the ratio in our food intake.
Scientists have estimated that a healthy ratio is somewhere in the region of 1:1. That’s what our bodies have evolved for. Both fatty acids are very important to many processes in the body, and having too much of one or the other is a bad thing.
It just so happens that having too much omega-6 is wildly inflammatory.
How much is too much?
The typical western diet has an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of between 1:10 and 1:30.
This explains the so-called “American Paradox”, or how despite a consistent lowering of fat intake and cholesterol levels, obesity, heart disease, and other diseases have continued to skyrocket. This pattern is now being repeated throughout most of the Western world.
It’s not a paradox. It was just bad science.
Mind you, the essential fatty acid ratio is not the only problem, but I’ll cover that in a later article.
What happened? Why did the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio change in our bodies?
Since the ratio is entirely dependent on our food intake, the culprit is of course the food. Two categories of food in particular stand out and are ubiquitous:
This includes Margarine.
Vegetable oils have the highest amount of omega-6 fatty acids of any food commonly eaten. You would have to eat several pounds of grain-fed beef to match the amount of omega-6 contained in a tablespoon of vegetable oil.
And yet most people constantly cook with it. Restaurant food is cooked with vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are all over the place in processed foods.
Dairy and meat products
Before the 1940’s, most cows, goats, and chickens were grass-fed. As long as they ate grass, the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of fatty acids in their produce was roughly 1 to 1.
Now that they are almost always grain fed, the ratio balloons from 1:15 to 1:45 in milk, depending on how much of a proportion grains make up in their diet. That means milk, eggs, and even meat from ruminants who are supposed to eat grass, is all inflammatory.
Enough doom and gloom! What can I do about it?
Given the importance of the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, and how much of an effect it has on our bodies, this problem is surprisingly easy to fix.
No. 1 – Stop eating Vegetable Oils
It sucks that what decades of conventional wisdom has been driving people towards as “healthy” is in fact a cause of many chronic and debilitating diseases.
So stop eating them. Completely. Eliminate them from your diet.
The amount of omega-3 you’d have to take in from food sources is enormous to balance out your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio while still eating vegetable oils.
Make it so that eating vegetable oils is at most an accident.
Vegetable oils are of course primarily used in cooking, so you want to switch to one of these five alternatives:
- Olive Oil (extra virgin)
- Coconut oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Fat from the food itself, such as cooking bacon in its own saturated fat
- Water (such as by filling a pan)
Now in a pinch, grain-fed butter will do, too. It’s a lot less harmful than vegetable oil in its omega-6 content. Just be sure to balance things out with some omega-3 intake later.
No.2 – Is Flaxseed oil a good idea?
In short, no. Flaxseed oil is also known as linseed oil. Linseed oil is basically furniture polish. You should not eat furniture polish.
Now it might appear at first that linseed oil is filled with omega-3’s and could be used to rectify your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. However, the specific type of omega-3 in linseed oil, α-Linolenic acid, cannot be directly used by the body and must first be synthesized into EPA and DHA, two other acids.
Sounds good, except humans can only synthesize a few percent, and our ability to do so decreases with age. Incidentally, women are better at synthesizing it than men, but the efficiency is still very low.
No. 3 – Find a source of grass-fed animal products
This will restore the balance of the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio within your food, and will allow you to reduce supplementation of omega-3.
But if you can’t find a source of grass-fed animal produce, remember that there is a lot less omega-6 in animal produce than in vegetable oils.
Which means it’s easier to balance the ratio out with foods high in omega-3. Which brings us to…
No. 4 – Start balancing your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio
Good sources of Omega-3 include sardines and salmon, and supplements are fish oil and krill oil. A quick Google search will yield several lists of foods by their omega-3 content.
Be careful with large fish, though. Small fish, such as sardines, are best. Large fish will often accumulate much higher levels of toxic heavy metals, such as mercury.
When buying canned fish, make sure the fish isn’t floating in vegetable oil!
- Reduce your intake of omega-6 and increase your intake of omega-3 until the ratio is roughly balanced.
- Stop eating vegetable oil, or products containing vegetable oil or fat.
- Try to get a hold of grass-fed eggs, meat, poultry, and dairy products.
- When you know you’ve eaten some excess omega-6’s, take some fish oil or krill oil as supplements to balance things out.
- Eat more fish that are high in omega-3, especially sardines.
Now at the beginning I said the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio was one of two primary causes of inflammation. I’ll cover the second cause in my next article on nutrition. Hint – it’s a macronutrient.
What I wonder is whether people realize why this bad nutritional advice persists to this day despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary. The reason is simple: government and business getting together.
The global vegetable oil industry is worth more than $80 billion per year, and is growing at a very steady rate. In developing countries, it’s outright booming. And unlike what most people might imagine, currently over 80% of vegetable oil consumption is for food purposes, not industrial or fuel use.
So when so much money is involved, and when a few key (mostly governmental) organizations hand out most of the research grant money and control the majority of the propaganda you see on your TV, including “official” nutritional advice, is it surprising that bad nutritional science and public knowledge is the rule rather than the exception?