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Key Takeaways

  • As a species, humans evolved on a diet with equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, meaning the ratio between these nutrients was roughly 1:1
  • Now, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in a typical Western diet is about 15:1 to 16.7:1, meaning that Westerners eat 15 to 16.7 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. The human body isn’t used to such a diet
  • High omega-6 intake and a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes the development of many health conditions including heart disease, cancer, and different kinds of inflammation
  • Conversely, a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and a higher intake of omega-3 soothes inflammation and decreases the risk of several diseases, including breast cancer

Actions to Consider

  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the National Institutes of Health, natural sources of this nutrient include seafood, cold-water fish (mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, herring), nuts and seeds, and omega-3 fortified foods.
  • Reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids. Common sources of omega-6, according to the National Cancer Institute, include chicken, grain-based desserts, chips, pizza, yeast bread, eggs, processed meat, vegetable oils, and fried food.
  • Aim for an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 4:1 (4 times more omega-6 than omega-3), but lower is even better.
    If you notice you have a hard time meeting your goal ratio, consider taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement daily. Fish oil is a great natural option.
  • Have your ratio regularly tested with over-the-counter biomarker tests like this one: aimeehealth.ai/brainspan

Why do fatty acids matter?

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for vitality, but only in a specific ratio.

According to scientific studies, getting the right omegas in the right amount could be enough to decrease mortality from cardiovascular events by up to 70% and significantly enhance your health at the same time.

But how much is ”just right” when it comes to omega fatty acids?

What is this study about?

Today’s study was carried out way back in 2002 by The Center for Genetics, Nutrition, and Health in Washington, DC. Its goal was to determine how diets with different omega-6 to omega-3 ratios affect health, longevity, and risk of developing particular diseases.

Omega fatty acids in a nutshell: how do they work and why do you need them

In simple terms, the human body uses omega-6 fatty acids to create pro-inflammatory molecules from the eicosanoid group. Some of their functions include fighting infections, reacting to tissue damage, and ensuring your immune system works in an optimal way. 

Excessive omega-6 fatty acid intake, on the other hand, leads to excessive production of eicosanoids and has been linked to an increased risk of inflammatory diseases, autoimmune conditions, and increased cardiovascular risk.

As a counterweight, the body uses omega-3 fatty acids to create anti-inflammatory molecules (also from the eicosanoid group, by the way). Since the body uses the same enzymes to process both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, these substances compete for the available enzymes. In other words, the more omega-3 you eat, the less enzymes your body will have to process omega-6 into inflammatory molecules.

You need some omega-6 and some omega-3 fatty acids. So what’s the optimal ratio?

Evidence on the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio

Studies indicate that humans lived for thousands of years with a ratio of about 1:1 (equal amounts of both omega-6 and omega-3). Now, the typical Western diet features a 15:1 to 16.7:1 ratio between the two omegas, contributing to all sorts of health issues.

The study we’re reviewing today reported several health benefits linked to a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio

  • A ratio of 5:1 improved bronchial asthma symptoms (and a ratio of 10:1 made them worse)
  • A ratio of 4:1 leads to a 70% reduction in total mortality from cardiovascular disease
  • A ratio of 3:1 or 2:1 calmed down inflammation in patients with arthritis
  • A ratio of 2.5:1 significantly reduced colorectal cancer proliferation
  • A lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is linked to a lower breast cancer risk in women

To summarize, lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratios are much better for general health. The closest your ratio is to the 1:1 that humans are evolutionary used to, the better, but that’s hardly a realistic goal. Aiming for a 4:1 ratio is a good and feasible goal.

Conclusion

Neither omega-6 nor omega-3 fatty acids are good or bad on their own.

Getting too much or too little of any of these nutrients could be detrimental for health, so keeping them balanced is crucial for your healthspan and lifespan.

While the optimal goal omega-6 to omega-3 is probably close to 1:1, a realistic goal that would give you most of the associated health benefits is 4:1.

Link to study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

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