Are You Unbalanced? The Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio

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??

Cute huh?

  • 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):

  1. Replace vegetable oils with olive oil (flaxseed oil is the next best alternative)
  2. Choose WHOLE foods over processed foods and you can slash your omega-6 intake by almost a third!!
  3. Read ingredients labels carefully and avoid products with grape seed, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils.
  4. Avoid deep fried foods, which are typically dipped in the vegetable oils mentioned in point 3.
  5. 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):

  1. Consume oily fish twice a week. Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s site for eco-friendly and safe seafood to eat.
  2. Look for foods fortified with EPA and DHA (as stated clearly on the label!).
  3. Eat sources of ALA, which converts into DHA and EPA in the body, including dark leafy greens and flaxseeds.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

References:

  • “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.

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25 comments to Are You Unbalanced?? The Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio

  • [...] to be manufactured and used more regularly and heart disease rates began to increase (due to an Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio imbalance [...]

  • [...] them. Omega-3′s have crucial functions in the body, particularly helping to balance out the omega-6 inflammatory properties. Omega-3′s work as an anti-inflammatory, thus decreasing your risk for things like heart [...]

  • Nancy

    I recently discovered your site, and share your philosophy of eating a predominantly whole foods diet; found this to be a very important article, as balance is so key and the majority of people who think they are eating healthy (due to food labeling) are causing harm to their systems. One point that I take great exception to is the recommendation to use CANOLA OI — a highly processed, genetically modified form of industrial oil and I am greatly discouraged by all the nutritionists and “food network” chefs that recommend it.

  • What a great post! How did I miss this one???

    I learned a lot from this. I knew that Omega 6 were “good” but not too much. I have grapeseed, safflower and sunflower oils all in my cabinet that I never use. Got them a few ears ago for recipes and because back then I thought they were healthier baking oils….So you think IF I were to use an oil when baking, canola is the way to go?? I usually use applesauce to replace oil but just curious!!!

  • [...] discussed the omega-6: omega 3 ratio imbalance in a previous post and would love for you to read more about that now! It discusses how the ratio [...]

  • [...] parts of the body, including our bones. The more omega-3′s we eat, the more balanced our omega-6: omega 3 ratio (if you haven’t read about that yet, do so now!!). You see, because omega-6′s are [...]

  • [...] in our skin, the plumper and younger it looks! While we all get plenty of omega 6′s, help keep the omega 6:omega 3 ratio balanced by consuming foods that are also high in omega [...]

  • [...] I have discussed the benefits of turmeric on my blog before but I needed to include it as part of this series because I cannot stress enough what  a super spice it is! I read a book earlier this summer called, “Anticancer: A New Way of Life,” by David Servan-Schreiber. As most of you know, my mother has been battling cancer on and off for the past 8 years, so I am always interested to read the latest and greatest.  The book thoroughly discusses the importance of taking care of your terrain (body) by being mindful of the foods you consume and the products you are using. One very strong point Dr. Servan-Schreiber addressed was the impact inflammation has on the growth of cancer cells in our bodies. This point inspired me to write the post: Are You Unbalanced? The Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio. [...]

  • Very important information. Coconut oil and hemp oil are really good sources of omega-3s too. A tbsp of hemp oil adds a nice nutty flavour to smoothies along with the omega-3s, while coconut oil is completely neutral in flavour.

  • [...] Anyway, today she was discussing the importance of FAT in our diets! I wrote a post about the imbalance between omega-6’s and omega-3’s in our diets a few weeks back and why there needs to be better balance.  Gina’s  post [...]

  • Hey Erin, Thanks for the mentioned! I’m glad that you find my post useful. More people do need to know about the perils caused by imbalanced fats intake, especially when not all fats are created equal. Great post!

  • Awesome! i’m so happy to hear that! I hope you will share with others!! It’s sooo important!

  • I love this post. I didn’t know too much about the difference between Omega 3′s and Omega 6′s. Makes me feel pretty good about my diet!! :)

  • great info, I cook with only oive oil and margarine, I have never liked the taste..yuck, rather have the fat of butter..but in moderation

    sweetlife

  • I will be thinking of your mom…what a battle…thank you for this information. You’ve encouraged me to go out and buy a pound of wild salmon. Thank you for sharing, your posts are so informative!

  • Pimento cheese is defiantly balanced. :)

  • this is some powerful information! i am gonna pass this along!

  • very interesting! I dont eat fish, is there something I can eat/take to supplement this?

  • Hey Mo! Don’t think grape seed oil is not good for you!! It’s still great in moderation! My point was simply, we are getting way too much omega 6s compared to omega3s. So please don’t think these substances are unhealthy, they are just not balanced in relation to our omega-3 intake. Thanks for the comments!!

  • Mo

    I really have no idea how much of each I consume. I do take a fish oil pill because omega-3s supposedly help with migraines, which I suffer from, so hopefully I get enough combined with my intake of whole foods, flaxseed and olive oil. I don’t eat meat too often but lately when I do eat meat it’s been bison, and I rarely eat dairy. But, then again, I also rarely eat fish. :S Hopefully it’s balanced enough but I really have no idea!

    I definitely thought grape seed oil was good for you, though. o.O

    Thanks for the informative post!

  • Wow this post is so helpful! I was always unclear on the difference between the two, so I wasn’t sure if I was getting the right balance.

    I wish your mom the best of luck battling her cancer. :)

  • i love the stuff you write about! i would have never thought to even look into omegas let alone write about them!!

  • This is such a good reminder. I learned abut this in a holistic nutrition course I took in my Master’s program and really found this interesting! So glad you posted about this. I need to remember to take my fish oils!

  • These are great tips!

  • Cristin

    Great post! Thanks! My sister is also battling cancer that keeps coming back. This is great info.

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