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There has been a lot of discussion on the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, and the pitfalls of Omega-6 fatty acids. I think it is time for a primer on what these different types of fat do and how it impacts our health. I promise I won’t make this too science ‘geeky’ – but, it is hard to take the biochemist out of the girl.

First, both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are the two main types of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (or, PUFA’s). And, both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (namely, ALA and LA, see below) are considered ‘essential’ to life. They are critical compounds for the immune, cellular, neurological and our hormonal systems.

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So, then why – if they are ‘essential’, is there such a clamor about how Omega-6 fatty acids are unhealthy?

Nothing is ever as cut and dried as we have a tendency to see in the media – so, read on. As I stated Omega-6 fatty acids are necessary in moderate amounts. Ideally, we should have a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 of 1:1 to 4:1. However, what is happening in our ‘fast and convenient food’ world is that we are eating more like 25:1 or even higher. So, the issue is not so much that Omega-6 is bad for you, it is just that we eat way too much of it!

And, what does all that Omega-6 do:

1.       It stops the conversion of a key Omega-3 fatty acid (namely – a-linoleic acid (ALA)) to other key fatty acids needed in our body, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (or EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

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2.       It promotes an overabundance of inflammation in the body.  Think of it this way – a little inflammation is OK (like a home fire that keeps the house warm and comfortable). Too much Omega-6 is like a five alarm fire.

 3.       It also oxidizes your LDL, making it rancid and more likely to cause heart disease.

 But, if we keep our levels in balance – then Omega-3’s can work to reduce the expression of inflammatory genes, improve memory, help with depression symptoms, regulate our insulin levels and so on. 

So, you can see that our Standard American Diet needs to be tweaked to improve our overall intake of Omega-3’s and reduce Omega -’s. How do we do that? Here are some great ideas:

  • Eat pasture-raised meat and dairy. Corn fed meat and dairy has high levels of Omega-6 from the corn they are fed. Grass is a great source of Omega 3’s (remember, you are what you eat).
  • Use more oils like, olive, flaxseed and walnut oil. Avoid using industrial vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, cottonseed.
  • Eat more wild or sustainably raised fish.
  • Eat nuts and seeds.
  • Consider a good Omega-3 (EPA/DHA) supplement.

And, above all – stay healthy!


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