Is Omega-6 More Important Than Omega-3?

According to a very "about-face" recommendation by the American Heart Association, Americans should not reduce their consumption of omega-6 fats -- and might even benefit from eating a little more.

Omega-6 and omega-3 fats are "essential fats" that your body can't produce and must obtain from food. These fatty acids play a very important role in heart and brain function, along with normal growth and development.
Most omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the diet come from linoleic acid, found in vegetable oils such as corn oil. There are no firm recommendations on how much omega-6 PUFAs people need, but at present U.S. adults consume about 15 grams per day of linoleic acid. But according to the Institute of Medicine, 17 grams per day and 12 grams a day are adequate for men and women, respectively.

Questions have been raised about whether omega-6 PUFAs might harm the heart by promoting inflammation, because these fatty acids are the building blocks of several types of inflammatory molecules. But some very compelling scientific evidence based on biochemistry and physiology show omega-6 fatty acids actually reduce inflammation, and they also have well-documented effects in lowering cholesterol levels.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

AHA researchers argue that eating less omega-6 has "conceptual and biological limitations, especially if it leads to people cutting their consumption of omega-6 fats rather than increasing their omega-3 intake.”

For many years I have long advocated increasing your omega-3 intake by supplementing with a high quality animal-based supplement like krill oil, however I presented at the American Academy of Anti Aging in Orlando last month and heard a lecture by Life-Systems Engineering Scientist Brian Peskin that really emphasized these concepts, which are really in conflict with my previous understanding of fatty acid physiology.

So I had dinner with Brian and read his book, "The Hidden Story of Cancer", and believe that there are strong compelling elements of science to his research. I am currently in the process of investigating and validating his claims.

I have long stated that we need to decrease our total intake of omega-6 fats, but Brian’s work got to rethink some of my positions on this topic. There is no question you need to eliminate MUCH of the omega-6 fats in your diet, but these are the processed fats that have been refined and heated and become virtually useless, and even worse, very harmful.

Brian’s theory is that we should have about equal or twice as many parent omega-6 fats as parent omega-3 fats. So that would be LA and ALA. This is still a relatively small amount of oil, and only amounts to about 3 grams or four 750 mg capsules per day for a 150 pound adult.

The central element to make this method even more successful though would be to make sure you virtually eliminate ALL processed fats. Since 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food is for processed foods, this is a real challenge. However it remains a noble goal.

Many of Brian’s recommendations are virtually identical to mine with the exception of the fatty acid element. He takes much of his rationale from Otto Warburg, who was a German physician who won a Nobel prize in the 30s for his work on the metabolism of cancer cells.

It will take me some time to thoroughly evaluate Brian's "connecting-the-dots" that no one has done, and when I conclude my analysis I will report my findings to you.

Don’t Buy Into This Misguided Advice

The researchers conclude that getting up to 10 percent of your calories from omega-6 fatty acids such as corn oil, is safe and reduces heart disease risk compared with lower intakes, stating:

"To reduce omega-6 PUFA intakes from their current levels would be more likely to increase than to decrease risk for coronary heart disease."

Folks don't blindly follow this recommendation.

First, of all nearly all corn is GMO, but even if it wasn’t it is highly processed and will not perform the function it was designed to. It would be FAR better to source your omega 6 oils from ORGANIC, unprocessed oils. Ideally this would in the form of their original seed precursors, like sunflower, pumpkin, or sesame seeds.

If you want to increase your overall health and energy level, and prevent health conditions like heart disease, cancer, depression and Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, ulcerative colitis, and a host of other diseases, one of the most important strategies at your disposal is to increase your intake of omega-3 fats and reduce your intake of processed omega-6 fats.

Yes that is the key term here: processed. Just as I have been saying for many years, the problem with saturated fats really wasn’t the healthy saturated fats that were causing the problems, but the heating and processing that damaged the oils.

I still believe, as Brian does, that the lack of omega-3 is one of the most serious health issues plaguing contemporary society today, in addition to being seriously deficient in vitamin D. But on the flip side is the problem of simply consuming far too many processed and damaged omega-6 fats in the wrong balance with omega-3.

Over 2,000 scientific studies have demonstrated the wide range of problems associated with Omega-3 deficiencies. In addition to what I already mentioned, it’s been linked to:

  • Dyslexia
  • Depression and violence
  • Weight gain
  • Allergies and eczema
  • Memory problems
  • Inflammatory diseses
  • Diabetes

And, it was less than six months ago that the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study showing that raised levels of omega 6 contribute to confused behavior and Alzheimer’s, stating it appears to interfere with your brain's nerve cells, causing over-stimulation, and that lowering omega 6 levels can allow the cells to function normally.

Keep in mind, the standard American diet (SAD) is almost devoid of Omega 3's, except for certain types of fish – and fish can no longer be recommended as a safe source of omega-3s due to high levels of mercury and other toxic contaminations. It’s no wonder omega-3 deficiency is rampant, which is why it’s so shocking to see the American Heart Association recommendation to continue consuming omega-6 oils WITHOUT the warning they must be organic and unprocessed.

What to Avoid

The primary sources of omega-6 are:

  • Corn oil
  • Canola oil
  • Soy oil
  • Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats
  • Margarine
  • Shortening

Just look at the labels on the foods and condiments you buy and you’ll see just how overabundant these oils are. It’s very difficult to find any kind of processed or prepackaged food that does not contain one of these oils. I strongly recommend you avoid all of the above as they will only worsen your omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.

Acceptable Fats to Help Balance Your Omega 6:3 Ratio

Acceptable oils will be a high quality extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and organic butter, or better yet grass-fed organic butter.

Another way to improve your omega 6:3 ratio is to change the type of meat you eat.

You could consume more game meat like venison, or other game animals that are raised exclusively on grass or free-range diets. However, these are a bit harder to find and generally more expensive than beef.

Keep in mind that because nearly all cattle are grain fed before slaughter, if you eat traditionally raised beef it will typically worsen your omega 6:omega 3 ratio.

Free-range and/or grass-fed beef, however, contain better ratios of these two fats, and are a far better option. The article “Better Beef,” written by California rancher Dave Evans, gives a great in-depth view of the many benefits of grass-fed beef, from environmental sustainability to the sheer difference in taste and nutrient content of the beef.

Evans also offers this list of grass-fed beef ranchers in the United States, where you can find good-quality meats:

What’s the Optimal Source of Omega 3?

Last but not least, you’ll want to supplement your diet with a high quality animal-based omega 3. But what’s your best option?

In my view, krill oil is clearly your best option when it comes to obtaining important high quality animal based omega-3 fats. It contains essential EPA and DHA in a double chain phospholipid structure that makes it far more absorbable than the omega-3s in fish oil.

Krill oil also contains vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin D and canthaxanthin, which is a potent anti-oxidant. Research has shown the anti-oxidant potency of krill oil is, in terms of ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorptance Capacity) values, 48 times more potent than fish oil.

And, if you’ve read reports about overharvesting, or that krill oil supplements are starving other species into extinction, don’t buy into that misinformed hoopla either. I set the record straight about this just a couple of months ago.

While competing omega 3 products may try to scare you with stories like that, the fact is that krill -- properly harvested, and tested for contaminations -- remains the most incredible source of omega-3 series of oils on the planet.