Essential fatty acids or EFAs are coined “essential” because while they are necessary for health, the body cannot make them — we get EFAs from the food we eat. EFAs are not fuel for the body like other fatty acids, but are required for many biological processes. Only two EFAs are known essential for humans, these are linoleic acid or Omega-6 and alpha-linolenic acid or Omega-3. How well these two fatty acids function in the body is dependent on the balance between the two.
The typical American has an Omega 6:3 ratio somewhere along the lines of 17-30:1. With an ideal ratio falling between 4:1 and 1:1. This trend represents how deficient the Standard American Diet (SAD) is in Omega-3 as well as how excessive and prevalent Omega-6 is. Excessive amounts of Omega-6 and a very high O6:3 ratio, promotes the development of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Whereas increased levels of Omega-3s and a low O6:3 ratio eliminates or lessens the risk.Never before in history has the SAD consisted of such an over abundance of Omega-6 fatty acids. Prior to the 1960's saturated fats like beef tallow, lard and butter were preferred and encouraged. By the early 1970's the American Heart Association had successfully convinced Americans that fat, particularly saturated fat was to be avoided at all cost. Then in the late 1970's the USDA followed suit by recommending Americans consume less fat as well.
With the onset of the low-fat craze, saturated fats were replaced with “heart healthy” and “figure friendly” polyunsaturated fats. The problem here lies, most of these so-called healthy fats, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil are predominantly Omega-6. So, while Omega-6 is essential, in large or excess amounts it becomes detrimental, even more so, when it is not in balance with Omega-3 intake. In addition, Omega-6s and Omega-3s compete for the same conversion enzymes. These enzymes make sure the fatty acids are fully used and metabolized by the body.
Research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, where, most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a symptom of virtually every disease process. In order to reduce inflammation, not only do we need to reduce the amount of Omega-6 in our diet, we also need to increase the amount of Omega-3.
Oh Mega: Part Two
a short Q & A with renowned Omega-3 expert Dr. Doug Bibus.