I have been reading a lot more information lately about the connection between lifestyle factors and cancer rates. My mom has been battling cancer since 2002. While she has made some small changes to her lifestyle over the past few years, the cancer keeps coming back. She exercises several times a week, keeps her weight down, and eats lots of fruits and veggies…what could be triggering these cancer cells?
The cancer information I have read over the years inspired me to create a list of potential factors that could be contributing to this epidemic it seems our country is facing. I will be sharing this list throughout the next few months. The very first factor I thought I would address is the imbalance of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 ratio.
Why does there need to be balance?
Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids compete to have control over body functions and the presence of one, greatly affects the presence of another. Omega-6s are crucial for optimum health, but when these fatty acids begin to accumulate at high levels, it seems they cancel out the benefits of omega-3s.
Essentially, if your diet is predominantly fueled by foods that are high in omega-6s (‘heart healthy’ vegetable oils; safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, cottonseed), then you are contributing to inflammation in your body because omega-6s are “pro” inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that the balance of pro and anti-inflammatory agents in the body is disrupted when omega-6s are too high in comparison to omega-3s. This promotes chronic inflammation, heightening risk for illnesses like CANCER, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
What ARE Omega-3s and Omega-6s anyway??
- Omega-6s are polyunsaturated fats like linoleic acid (found in most vegetable oils) and arachidonic acid (found mostly in animal sources). Overall, they promote inflammation in cells as a stress response and stimulate fat cell production.
- Omega-3s consist of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid). DHA and EPA are found in fish oils, while ALA is found mostly in plant oils like dark leafy greens, walnuts, and flaxseed. ALA is converted to DHA and EPA in the body. All work to decrease inflammation, enhance the nervous system, help limit adipose cells (body fat), and prevent cancer!!
In the last century, a great imbalance has been created between these two fatty acids. The ideal ratio is about 2:1 (Omega-6: Omega-3) but typically Americans have a ratio balance of 10:1 or up to 30:1. This “imbalance,” disrupts the natural physiological balance, promoting the growth of fat and cancer cells in the body.
How did we become so imbalanced??
- Beef, dairy, and poultry: Corn, soy, and wheat (sources of omega-6s) became the main sources of feed for animals beginning in the 1950s, as opposed to spring grass. Spring grass is a very strong source of omega-3s and as a result, the animals’ derivatives–milk, butter, eggs, cream, cheese, etc, also contained these essential omega-3s. However, now that the main source of feed (corn, soy, and wheat) is rich in omega-6s, the derivatives are richer in those fatty acids and our diets began to lack omega-3s. In fact, according to a study I read about in Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s book , Anti-Cancer, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that chickens raised on corn, produce eggs with twenty times more omega-6s than omega-3s. Forage fed chickens were shown to have a ratio of 1:1.
- Margarine: With increased incidence of high cholesterol, “vegetable” margarine’s were introduced as a substitute for butter. While the switch showed drastic decreases in cholesterol levels, inflammatory disorders and heart attacks seemed to increase. Considering that most margarines are made with sunflower oil ( 70 times more omega-6s than omega-3s), soybean oil ( 7 times more omega-6s than omega-3s), and canola oil ( 3 times more omega-6s than omega-3s), perhaps the omega-6 imbalance was causing the added inflammation?
So what can YOU do??
Lower Omega-6 Intake (suggestions from The Conscious Life):
- Replace vegetable oils with olive oil (flaxseed oil is the next best alternative)
- Choose WHOLE foods over processed foods and you can slash your omega-6 intake by almost a third!!
- Read ingredients labels carefully and avoid products with grape seed, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils.
- Avoid deep fried foods, which are typically dipped in the vegetable oils mentioned in point 3.
- Margarines, Mayo, Dressings, and other spreads contain lots of omega-6s. Choose alternative condiments or look for products made with olive oil or canola oil!
Increase Omega-3 Intake (suggestions from The Conscious Life):
- Consume oily fish twice a week. Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s site for eco-friendly and safe seafood to eat.
- Look for foods fortified with EPA and DHA (as stated clearly on the label!).
- Eat sources of ALA, which converts into DHA and EPA in the body, including dark leafy greens and flaxseeds.
- If you are vegetarian or don’t care for seafood, it might be wise to consider a supplement. Talk with your physician before taking any kind of DHA or EPA supplements.
- Buy free-range or pasture fed meats, poultry, and dairy as they contain higher amounts of DHA and EPA.
* Please keep in mind that our bodies need BOTH Omega-6 and Omega-3s from our diet. Our life is about balance and our bodies still NEED Omega-6s, just not in such large quantities! I hope you found this information useful and will start putting these principles in to practice!
Feel free to share with friends and on your own blogs! I would also LOVE to hear opinions! Thanks for stopping by!
SUNSCREEN CHALLENGE: Even though it’s an extremely dreary, dark day, I lathered up my face and arms with an SPF of 30!! No wrinkles for me!
- “Anti-Cancer; A New Way Of Life.” Servan-Schreiber, David, MD, PhD. Strand, London. Viking Penguin: 2009.
- “Anti-Inflammaroty Diet: How To Balance Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids.” Wee Peng Ho. The Conscious Life. 15 Oct, 2009.