Why are omega 3 and 6 imbalanced in the body?

Over the last few decades the balance of essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6 has become very imbalanced, resulting in a ratio of 1:20 (3:6), at odds with ancient populations 1-2:1 (3:6)*.

Modern day diets drive this imbalance: too much vegetable oils and meat, not enough oily fish and changes in farming.  The fats are called essential as we can only obtain these from our diets. 

How does the imbalance affect our health?

This imbalance is significant as it can lead to many health issues in the body: 

  • cell walls harden resulting in insulin receptors becoming unresponsive to insulin which can increase the risk of diabetes (as well as exacerbate PCOS symptoms.)*****  

  • increased risk of obesity through inflammatory pathways* 

  • the imbalance impacts various stages of cancer development – cell survival, inflammation, cell proliferation.******

  • overall systemic inflammation can be a mediator to many chronic ailments. *****

A balanced intake of omega 3 against omega 6 can be great for skin conditions (e.g. eczema, psoriasis, acne which are all mediated by inflammation), for heart health**** (may decrease plaque build up) and arthritis (modifying the immune response).***

How can I re-balance my omega 3 and 6? 

  • Aim for 3 portion of oily fish per week – salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies.  A portion is roughly a person’s fist (apply to all ages, so a toddler’s portion is their fistful)

  • Invest in a good flaxseed oil – this should be kept in the freezer as it goes rancid quickly.  De-cant into small bottles when you open for the first time, freeze, and individually defrost when you need it.  Yes – this is a bit of a faff, but great health benefits.  Any questions on this please contact me! 

  • Add walnuts and chia seeds to salads, smoothies, breakfast bowls! Great way of getting a small but frequent source of omega 3. 

  • Cut down on processed foods, laden with vegetable oils such as sunflower oil 

  • Watch out for plant milks – some contain sunflower oil and some rapeseed oil.  Plenish is a clean brand. See ‘vegan milk’ blog for more information. 

  • Have red meat twice per week, and try to get ‘grass fed’, see below for why. 

  • Consider a fish oil supplement, especially significant in cases of inflammatory conditions in the body. 

Choose grass fed meat – higher omega 3 content 

‘Back in the day’ – when livestock were fed grass and were allowed to roam freely, people got their omega 3 from meat sources.  Grass fed meat has a much higher concentration of omega 3 than today’s livestock which are predominately fed corn or soya. 

You are what you eat applies to cow’s too – cow’s fed a grass diet contain up to 5 times more omega 3 than omega 6!*

 

What can vegans and vegetarians do? 

  • Use flaxseed oil on salads or drizzle on meals (see note above re freezing)

  • Look into algae EPA supplements (speak to a specialist first e.g. health food shop, nutritional therapist for advice on best brands)

  • Have lots of chia seeds and walnut

Graph shows breakdown of oils by different fat types. 

High amounts of omega 6 (BLUE) in sunflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil.  Sunflower oil is most used in the UK in processed foods. 

High amounts of omega 3 (ORANGE) in flaxseed oil.