Omega 6 Bad!…Omega 3 Good!!!

  • Anthropological research suggests that our ancestors thrived on a diet with an Omega 6 fatty acid : Omega 3 fatty acid ratio of approximately 1:1.
  • Today, our Western diet, has skewed that ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFA) to between 15:1 and 16.7:1.

And that’s not good.

fish11 Omega 6 Bad!...Omega 3 Good!!!

mmmmm, fish

The Science

Current research tells us that Omega 6 fatty acids are the cause of many of our Western diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The researchers believe this for a few reasons.

  • Because of how Omega 6 fatty acids are broken down by your body, they are more likely than the Omega 3s to produce pro-inflammatory ‘eicosanoids’. In fact, many of the drugs used to treat and manage these conditions work by blocking the effects of the potent Omega 6 fat, Arachidonic Acid….and that’s bad.
  • The eicosanoids made from Omega 3 fatty acids are mainly anti-inflammatory….and that’s good.
  • Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids have to compete with each other in order for them to be transformed from fatty acids into eicosanoids. So, when the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 was 1:1, it was a fair fight. Now that it is 15 or 16:1, the Omega 6s win the fight and the result is increased inflammation and disease….and that’s very, very bad.

So What Do You Do?

  • Increase your consumption of Omega 3 foods and supplements
  • Reduce your consumption of Omega 6 foods and supplements.

It would also not be a bad idea to discuss this plan with your doctor. Especially if you are taking drugs for any condition that may be affected by Omega 3s and Omega 6s.

Omega-3 Foods & Supplements

Omega-6 Foods & Supplements

It’s not hard to find foods high in Omega 6 in our Western diet. Here are some of the worst offenders.

  • Cooking Oils – sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean
  • Egg yolks
  • Grain fed meats, particularly organ meats
  • Farm raised fish
  • All manner of processed foods
  • Even more  food high in Omega 6 fatty acids

Keep in mind, Omega 6 is not all bad. The problem is that due to the type of foods we eat, we have thrown the balance between Omega 6 and Omega 3 completely out of whack.

What Happens If I Take My Fish Oils?

  • You may reduce your risk of the eye disease – age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • You may reduce your risk of asthma and allergies.
  • You may reduce your risk of clogged arteries, even if you have other risk factors for heart disease.
  • You may prevent diabetic complications such as: myocardial infarction and stroke due to atherosclerosis, retinopathy, end-stage renal disease, debilitating neuropathies, poor wound healing, enhanced risk of infection, and periodontal disease.
  • You may reduce your risk of memory loss and stroke in your old age.
  • You may improve your cognition and memory while helping to fight against such mental disorders as depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia.

What Happens If I Don’t

The opposite of above.

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.

33 Comments

  1. Pingback: Oh My Omega’s! | CrossFit Moncton Paleo Challenge

  2. eatdrinkandgoveggie Steve Cooper

    August 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    We try to make our decisions at the point of purchase and stick with fresh, mostly organic produce. With enough fresh veggies we get a much better balance in our total nutrition. The oils seem to me to be in the condiments, more than the basic foods. So, when you have salad, are you tasting salad or dressing? We vote that you taste the salad and not worry about oils.

  3. kennydddKen

    May 31, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    all I know FOR SURE now is when I eat anything with omega six oils in it I get chronic foot pain It makes a huge difference in my pain level I wonder how many other people are affected with pain and not knowing it has something to do with diet and specificly omega six oils

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  5. Kieran DSouza

    January 6, 2013 at 11:26 am

    what humbug. just concentrate on your physiological diet which should be lots of fruit, vegetables, salads, some nuts. leave the fish and seed oils alone as both of these are in no way concerned with our physiology. it is like trying to correct one bad habit (vegetable oils) with another (fish oils)

  6. Scott Michaels

    October 31, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Fascinating. So we've come full circle and so butter it seems is the best stuff to put on our bread! How ironic. I thought since the trans fats are now gone from margarine it was ok. Apparently not! No more margarine because all of them use plant oils!

  7. Jim

    July 10, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Egg yolks themselves aren’t a great source of “bad” omega 6′s unless they’re the general eggs from chickens pumped full of hormones and antibiotics not to mention a terrible diet. If you can get your hands on a cage free free range organic egg you’ll be able to get yourself some omega threes along with all the benefits of a healthy yolk!

  8. shaun bevins

    March 13, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Just have to throw this in there. It is important to realize that Omega 6 fatty acids are just as important as Omega 3 fatty acids. The problem we have is that we consume too many Omega 6s and not enough Omega 3s. We need both, but we need them in a much lower ratio than what a traditional western diet provides. I think the ideal is about 4:1…and I have seen our ratio estimated as high as 20:1.

    The other thing I will say about Omega 3s. While you can certainly take a fish oil supplement…and there is a lot of research out there now looking at the benefits of Omega 3s…simply taking a supplement doesn’t help to displace over-consumption of some of the Omega 6 rich foods. Most people would probably benefit by eating more fish and having that fish diplace an omega 6 rich food. Taking the supplement won’t do that. It also just happens that most fish is also extremely high in vitamin D, another supplement that is being heavily pushed.

    Omega 3 is also readily found in walnuts, flaxseed, and a bunch of other nuts and foods in smaller amounts (all things we would do good to add to our diet). It should be noted though that the omega 3s found in plant sources is ALA. And while ALA is a precusor to DHA and EPA (the two forms of omega 3s which has been more heavily studied) it’s conversion factor is low and dependent on lots of things. For example the amount of saturated fat in the diet can impact the conversion rate (again, taking supplements do not necessarily displace other foods). Many researchers believe that ALA will prove to have some of the same benefits as EPA and DHA, but most of the research involving the preventive and curative properties of omega 3 oils has been limited to EPA and DHA (or fish oils)

    So though I am not saying someone should not supplement, I am just saying that there is a benefit to not taking supplements and trying to increase Omega 3s in the diet relative to omega 6s. One thing that seems to be becoming increasingly more apparent in the literature/research is that isolating nutrients from their original food source has significantly less benefits than consuming from foods…so in that sense…”food” for thought.

  9. Nai

    February 23, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I have some days since i search informations about Omega 3 and this article is definetly on top of my list, verry good!!!
    Thanks for sharing

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  13. omDick

    October 7, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Always great & timely stuff from you and we re-tweet you often thru our Facebook fan page.
    Be well..

  14. pam boyer

    September 4, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Ok. I know after looking all over the internet, that my son and I are the exception to the rule, but I need to understand why. It has happened twice now where I have taken krill oil or a fish oil and had a severe increase in joint pain. My son has JRA (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis) and Aspergers (a form of autism ) both of these were made worse on the krill oil after one month. I realized this is what was causing his problems when we ran out of the pill and I hadn’t had a chance to buy more. Suddenly his pain improved and his behavior did as well. This is opposite from what I read online about this supplement. What gives?

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  16. iPocrates

    May 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    When should I take my Fish Oil supplement? Every morning? After Workout? Does it even matter?

    • healthhabits

      May 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

      Haven’t seen any research indicating any advantage to timing your Omega 3 intake…I take it before bed

  17. sue

    March 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Chia! About a 3:1 ratio (of Omega 3 to 6). You don’t have to keep it in the fridge. never tastes fishy (unlike flax, at times). High in fiber. high in other stuff I forget about. I always put some in my shakes. And has a fascinating history which you can learn about online.

    • healthhabits

      March 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm

      Thanks Sue – I smell another post topic

  18. re: health benefits of fish oils

    March 3, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks for posting this information. I agree that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 needs to be addressed if we are trying to achieve a healthier state. Unfortunately, the prevalence of processed foods as increased the amount of omega 6 in the everyday Westernized diet. We can take some cues from other countries by increasing our intake of fatty fish, fresh vegetables and fruits.

  19. Pingback: Exercise Builds Better Brains | Health Habits

  20. Eric

    October 22, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Omega-3 can also alleviate the symptoms of dry eyes.

    http://EyeDoctorsBlog.com

  21. Travis

    March 26, 2009 at 2:02 am

    And let’s not forget flax as a great source for Omega-3s! Plus, no mercury or other heavy metals. Bonus!

  22. Julie

    February 14, 2009 at 8:04 am

    We take Carlson fish oils once/day and have no arthritic pain. Two other people I know took them 3 times/day and within 2 days had no more arthritic pain. It works that fast.
    Have been wondering why eggs are inflammatory and now understand. We have switched to the Irish oat meal every a.m. and do not get that sluggish feeling anymore plus our elimination is very good now. We have cut back on meat quite a bit and eat fish 2-3 x’s week plus meat substitute plus veggie meals. I am always looking for nutritional ideas.
    Thanks,
    Julie

  23. Dr Dan

    November 11, 2008 at 1:24 am

    Once again you are full of GREAT advice!!!! I am really enjoying your blog.

  24. Pingback: Why are Omega 3s Better than Statins? « Healthhabits

  25. Paul Talbot

    August 10, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Two brief thoughts.

    1. One of the reasons why the essential balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids has been disruped stems from how our foods are processed and manufactured.

    2. A few fish we tend to overlook when we’re looking for ways to increase our Omega-3 consumption: Sardines and Anchovies.

  26. jamieatlas

    August 10, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Awesome post. There is so much research and information about fish oil nowadays – I have all my personal training clients taking it now and the results are significant. It isn’t the cheapest stuff to take but the better quality means you can be sure you are taking in the oil and not the mercury – which can be bad in a whole new way :(

    Great post! Thanks for writing about this!

  27. cathy

    August 8, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Nice post! We’re trying to increase our Omega-3 consumption, but it can be daunting when you don’t care for fish. Thank goodness for fish oil capsules!

  28. DR

    August 8, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks for the video link Susan.

    Good luck with the book.

    Mark – I think you would appreciate the video.

  29. Mark Salinas

    August 8, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Fantastic detail! Thanks for your insight!

    • shiva acharya

      January 23, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks for your useful advice

  30. susan allport

    August 8, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Thought you’d be interested in this short omega-3 video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIgNpsbvcVM

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