When it comes to modern world diseases (think diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis), inflammation is almost always the culprit at the cellular level. Balancing the omega-3 vs omega-6 levels within your body could be the key to reducing inflammation levels, and ultimately preventing disease.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 are both essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce and thus we must get from our diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are pro inflammatory, and while some inflammation in our body is essential to protect our bodies from infection and injury, an excessive inflammatory response causes the body to attack itself. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory and help keep a healthy inflammation balance within all of your body’s cells. It’s tempting to think that omega-6 is all bad and should be eliminated completely from our diet, but the truth is every nutrient has its place and important functions. Anything in excess is bad for you, even if it is ‘good’!
|Foods High in Omega-3||Foods High in Omega-6|
|Fish Oil||Sunflower Oil|
Some foods, like nuts, contain balanced levels of both omega-3 and omega-6’s, which are perfectly fine to consume as their pro inflammatory response is offset by anti inflammatory omega-3.
Interestingly, recent research shows that high levels of omega-6 fatty acids may be more responsible for heart disease than saturated fats, which were once considered the worst types of fats.
How can omega-6 fatty acids cause so much inflammation in the body? Omega-6 fatty acids contain empty double bonds in their structure, making them very reactive with oxygen. Once they come into contact with oxygen in the body they form a chain reaction of free radical formation, leading to body-wide inflammation if not balanced out by omega-3 fatty acids. The body also needs omega-6 fats to produce inflammatory hormones, which are needed for our immune response. When we eat too much omega-6, too many inflammatory hormones than we need are produced, which is when our bodies start to damage themselves.
The healthiest balance to keep is to aim to maintain your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio at 1. That means, eating equal amounts of both fatty acids in order to ensure correct levels of inflammation within your body. A diet high in processed food can have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of up to 16:1. Reducing processed food and vegetable oil is the most effective way of reducing excess omega-6 intake. It’s time to bring your fats into proper proportion!