Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is calculated by dividing the sum of all the omega-6 fatty acids by the sum of all the omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega 6 and 3 are two essential fats that are categorized as polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs for short. These fats are essential since we lack the ability to make them in our bodies and must obtain them from food or supplements. Once ingested, our body uses these fats to create other types of fats with important biological and health-promoting roles.
Omega 6 and 3 have many biological roles, including cell structure as well as eye and brain development, but are probably best known for their role in inflammation. In general, omega 6 fats are considered pro-inflammatory, while omega 3 fats are considered anti-inflammatory. However, both omega 6 and omega 3 fats can promote and inhibit the body’s inflammatory response, although omega 6 appears to produce a greater inflammatory response compared to omega 3. On the other hand, DHA and EPA can turn off the body’s inflammatory response and even influence certain genes to halt the production of inflammatory molecules.
Omega 3’s anti-inflammatory capabilities have motivated researchers to explore its role in the prevention and treatment of various diseases.
1. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79. doi: 10.1016/s0753-3322(02)00253-6. PMID: 12442909.
2. DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe J. The Importance of Maintaining a Low Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio for Reducing the Risk of Autoimmune Diseases, Asthma, and Allergies. Mo Med. 2021 Sep-Oct;118(5):453-459. PMID: 34658440; PMCID: PMC8504498.
→ The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk. 1
→ Reducing the omega-6/3 ratio, particularly through reductions in the intake of refined omega-6 seed oil, and increasing the intake of marine omega-3s, either through dietary means or supplementation, may be an effective strategy for reducing inflammation, allergies, and autoimmune reactions. 2
→ Rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil has been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, relieve inflammation and even ease symptoms of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. a
However, more fish oil is not always better, and taking too high a dose may actually do more harm than good when it comes to your health.
- Omega-3 supplements may interact with drugs that affect blood clotting.
- Excess amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can alter immune function sometimes in ways that may lead to a dysfunctional immune response to a viral or bacterial infection. b
- While generally safe, getting too much fish oil can increase your risk of bleeding and might affect your immune response. It's not clear whether fish oil is safe for people who are allergic to seafood. c
Fish oil supplements can cause mild side effects, including:
- A fishy aftertaste
- Bad breath
- Heartburn, nausea or diarrhea
Taking high doses of fish oil supplements might increase the risk of bleeding and possibly increase the risk of stroke.
Possible interactions include:
- Anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, herbs and supplements.
These types of drugs, herbs and supplements reduce blood clotting. It's possible that taking fish oil supplements with them might increase the risk of bleeding. c
Blood pressure drugs, herbs and supplements.
Taking fish oil supplements might slightly lower blood pressure. Taking these supplements with blood pressure drugs might increase the effects on blood pressure. c
Some contraceptive drugs might interfere with the effect fish oil typically has on triglycerides. c
Orlistat (Xenical, Alli).
Taking fish oil with this weight-loss drug might decrease absorption of fish oil fatty acids. Consider taking the supplement and drug two hours apart. c
Taking fish oil can reduce vitamin E levels. c
Ancestral studies suggest that humans evolved consuming an equivalent amount of omega 6 relative to omega 3, or a ratio of 1. In today’s world, where a significant proportion of calories are derived from processed foods rich in vegetable oils and animal-derived fats, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is approximately 15:1. At this higher intake, metabolism of omega 6, and consequently, inflammation, may be favoured.
The exact ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 needed for disease prevention/treatment is unknown. Most health organizations recommend a ratio of 4:1, however, a ratio of 2-3:1 may be beneficial for those with certain diseases, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition to achieving an ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, it’s also important to ensure that minimum amounts of omega 6 (it’s still essential) and omega 3 are consumed.
Possible ways to improve your Omega 6/3 Ratio:
Meet your omega 6 needs through plant-based, whole-food sources:
To achieve the ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, you need to simultaneously reduce your intake of omega 6, while increasing how much omega 3 you consume each day. The most concentrated sources of LA are found in plant-based oils like safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, and corn. As such, it’s better to use an oil that is low in omega 6, such as olive oil, and meet your LA needs from less concentrated sources, including almonds, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.
Include a daily source of ALA:
You can meet your daily ALA requirement by including 1 tbsp of ground flax/whole chia seeds or 2 tbsp of hemp seeds. These seeds are great added to a smoothie, sprinkled on toast, mixed into a salad dressing, or stirred into yogurt.
Get enough DHA/EPA:
The only food source rich in DHA/EPA is fatty fish. However, ocean pollution has raised concerns about the safety of fish consumption, since fat-soluble pollutants (such as dioxins) are stored in the fish’s fat cells and are incorporated into our own body’s cells through a process called bioaccumulation. If you do consume fish, avoid larger species such as tile fish and king mackerel and limit the frequency you eat fish to twice a week. If you avoid fish, it is recommended that you take a microalgae supplement providing at least 500 mg of DHA/EPA per serving.
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