Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are considered “essential fatty acids”. This means the body cannot make these fatty acids, they must be consumed in the diet. Both are crucial to good health. Fatty acids are needed to maintain cell membrane integrity and chemical transport. They are involved in the proper development and maintenance of the brain and central nervous system (think cognitive health), they are utilized for energy production, oxygen delivery to tissues (think cardiac and musculoskeletal health), and importantly the regulation of inflammation.
I am going to simplify the science and biochemistry slightly, but essentially, omega 3 fatty acids promote an anti-inflammatory pathway in our bodies. Omega 6 fatty acids primarily stimulate a pro-inflammatory pathway. We need both anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory responses for good health. For instance, if you get a cut or another type of injury like sprained ankle or broken bone, inflammation is essential as a marker for pain and to promote the proper chemical reactions and for the healing to start. However, in a normal state of health inflammation should be low.
In our bodies, omega 3 and omega 6 molecules compete for the same enzyme~ so if you get more omega 6 than omega 3 in your diet you will push the cascade toward more pro-inflammatory end products. Conversely, if your diet is higher in omega 3 than omega 6, you will produce more anti-inflammatory end products.
If we look at human history epidemiologically, our ancestors from ancient (paleolithic) times until the industrial revolution consumed a diet with an Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio of 1:1. Equal parts omega 3:6 in the diet. However, Over the last 100 years, diets in industrialized countries have changed dramatically, and the ratio of Omega 6 to omega 3 in the western diet has increased substantially. Now the Standard American Diet is noted to have an average ratio of 20:1. That is 20 times more omega 6 than omega 3. Current scientific research suggests that optimal health is obtained when the ratio is no more than 4:1.
Experts agree that chronic disease related to inflammation starts when Omega 6: Omega 3 ratios are greater than 6:1. Our bodies are not designed to handle the current ratios, and the result is an increase in chronic health concerns with inflammation as the root cause.
Omega 6 fatty acids are now readily available in our diets and can be found in high levels in many foods. Examples are processed vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and grapeseed oils as well as boxed foods with long shelf lives like crackers, cookies and similar pantry items. Additionally, processed meats, grain fed meat, and farmed fish are all higher in omega 6 content.
Omega 3 fatty acids have three subtypes, ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is found in plant products like walnuts, edible seeds, flax, dark green leafy vegetables and hemp. EPA and DHA are stronger anti-inflammatories and are found in marine products, grass fed meats, and chickens and eggs that have been supplemented with a diet rich in Omega 3. EPA and DHA are the source of omega 3 found in most supplements.
There is no FDA guidance for consumption, but most experts agree that 2000-4000 mg Omega 3 daily is reasonable for most people. Of course, this depends on your diet. There is a general consensus in the medical community that obesity, diabetes, arthritis, acne, and even depression and other chronic “diseases” are at least in part related to low omega 3 intake. There is a common condition known as keratosis pilaris. This is the small bumps on the backs of the upper arms that affect some people. It sort of looks like little acne on the back of upper arms. We try loofa sponges, exfoliators, and hydrating creams…but the real culprit is a diet deficient in omega 3 fatty acids. This is a little clinical pearl you can pass along to family and friends. 90% of Americans don’t consume enough Omega 3 to counter the effects of an omega 6 rich diet.
So, how do we balance the ratio? First, eat less omega 6 rich foods. Replace your omega 6 rich oils with alternative cooking oils. Eat less foods that have extremely long shelf lives. If a food product can stay in a box in your pantry for months or years and not spoil, it is going to have a high omega 6 content. If possible, buy grass fed meat and wild (not farmed) seafood. Admittedly, it is hard to eat from the earth and maintain a 1:1 or 1:4 ratio in the year 2017. Most people need to take an Omega 3 supplement. In fact, when I sent my daughter to college last year, I sent her with a bottle of omega 3 and encouraged her to take 2000 mg daily. I know she loves cup of noodles. Talk about omega 6! I want her to load up on omega 3 to counter the typical college diet. She reports to me that when she is consistently taking omega 3, her skin is better, her mood is better, her sleep is better, and her concentration is better to name a few benefits. I love that she can tell the difference.
So, because essentially everyone should use an omega 3 supplement, I would like to tell you what to look for. When looking for an Omega 3 supplement, choose one with both EPA and DHA for the greatest effect. EPA is important for cardiac and musculoskeletal health. DHA is the most abundant omega 3 in the brain (which is about 66% fat) and also plays a vital role in eye health and vision.
As a priority, check for fish oils that are fresh and of high purity from wild caught seafood. They should be cleanly sourced, molecularly distilled, inspected in the USA and verified to be free of mercury and other toxins. Do not take rancid fish oils, they will not benefit you. You will know they are rancid if they have a really strong odor when you open the bottle. Throw those away.
Melaleuca offers several great omega 3 products. All of them meet the strict guidelines I outlined above. Our cold water omega 3 has 1470 mg of concentrated fish oil in one serving (two softgels). It is included in the peak performance total health pack. Our CardiOmega EPA is an excellent source of EPA with 2000 mg fish oil concentrate. Our yummy Omega 3 crème delight has 3600 mg fish oil concentrate in one tablespoon. We also have an omega 3 prenatal vitamin with 1400 mg of omega 3 with a perfect ratio for growing babies brain/ central nervous system development. Our Unforgettables supplement promotes cognitive health with omega 3s as well as other ingredients known to promote improved cognitive abilities. Even our Simply Fit chewy Snack Bars have an ALA Omega 3 boost from flax.
Lastly, you should know that omega 3 supplementation will lead to less platelet aggregation. This is good, because clumpy platelets are involved in heart attacks and other clotting disorders. However, with less platelet aggregation, you may bruise more easily and bleed more easily. In fact, many dentists and surgeons will ask you to stop omega 3 supplements a few days before major oral surgery or other surgical interventions to reduce bleeding. Additionally, if you get too much omega 3 you may not absorb it all and this can lead to loose stools or diarrhea. But that is the extent of the side effects.
I hope you have learned something and understand the benefit of omega 3 supplementation.
Dr. Melissa Vourlitis is a board-certified family physician with an interest in wellness and preventive medicine. Prior to Medical School she earned her undergraduate degree in Nutrition Science from San Diego State University. In 2008, she also became board-certified in Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and is a diplomat of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. She loves helping people of all ages obtain optimal health.
She decided to partner with The Legacy Group after shopping for about nine months for environmentally friendly, safe, non-toxic and superior products. Month after month she tried new products until she found that she had replaced much of her regular household consumables with safer, better, smarter options. Every product met her high standards and her family all loved them as well.
The combination of being able to introduce people to a company with integrity, unparalleled customer service, and products that promote excellent heath and yet are affordable was intriguing. And with the incredible training and support offered by The Legacy Group, she has found that building a business to last a lifetime is a natural and exciting next step! She continues to work full time as a physician, and is having a great time sharing her passion for this business in the “nooks and crannies” of a busy life.