Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega -3 fatty acids are essential to life, and we honestly cannot meet our fullest health potential without them. Have you ever wondered what the hype is all about? Here’s a brief discussion about why you need them and how you’re not well without them.

Let’s start with the typical American diet. Everyone is familiar with the government recommended pyramid or plate diagram that suggests a little of everything is healthy. In this crazy system 2/5 of your daily caloric intake should be grains and dairy. In my humble opinion, this is one of the reasons that our society is so sick, overweight, and in pain.

If you follow the government recommended diet, you are consuming 10 times more Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3. Both of these fats are essential for human life and optimal health, but only when they are in the proper ratio. Omega-6 is in everything. It is especially high in grain and cereal products. The reason Omega-6 fatty acids are trouble in a high ratio is because the body will use them functionally in place of Omega-3. This is a problem for a couple reasons.

First, it makes our cell less flexible. High concentrations of Omega-6 fatty acids in an environment deficient of Omega-3 will be used to fortify cellular membranes making them function more rigidly. The health of our cells is dependent on the cell membrane’s ability to be malleable. A malleable cell membrane allows the various receptors on the membrane to interact with the environment. These receptors choose whether to allow nutrients into the cell. Likewise, these receptors protect our cells from toxins. “The membrane mediates the transfer of information and molecules between the outside and inside of the cell, including cellular recognition, signal transduction process, and metabolite and ion transport; fluidity is essential for these functions.”[1]

Second, Arachidonic Acid is an Omega-6 fatty acid. Why is it important to know that little fact? Arachidonic acid is the second step of signaling in the inflammatory cascade. Chronic inflammation is linked to a number of serious disorders like heart disease, fibromyalgia, digestive troubles, Alzheimer’s and a host of other problems that plague our society.  In an environment with high concentrations of Omega-6 fatty acids and low concentrations of Omega-3 the body is already up-regulated to the inflammatory cascade. This means it takes less effort to start the process thereby putting you at increased risk. This point cannot be over played. A high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is a major factor in poor health and diffuses pain across the population.

When someone talks about diet, it is important to know why they say the things they do. When we talk about limiting grains, cereal, dairy and other highly processed food, we lean on the above issues. This is also why we cry out against the government recommended diet. The pyramid/plate diagram doesn’t take into account the Biochemistry behind proper nutrition. The pyramid/plate says 2/5 grains and dairy. We’ve already talked about grains, but what about dairy? In commercialized dairy farms, the primary source of food for the milk producing cows is grain. The fatty acids in the grain gets metabolized and used to produce the cow’s milk. There are a number of other reasons that we shouldn’t drink cow’s milk, but in our context today, milk is high in Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil, flax seed oil, green leafy vegetables, grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish. Those are the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. This is why we push lots of fruits and vegetables and clean grass-fed meat as the majority of calories in our diets. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the proper function of each individual cell and by extension our whole system. We were designed to have a proper balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. We need both, but we need both in the proper ratio. Currently, studies have shown that the typical American diet has a ratio of 10:1. Most biochemistry nutritionists claim a better ratio is 4:1 ratio Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. You were designed to consume the right type of food to maximize your potential. Omega-3 fatty acids are a huge building block in that diet.

References:

1. Baynes, John W., and Marek H. Dominiczak. “Carbohydrates and Lipids.” Medical Biochemistry. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier, 2009. 23-32. Print.

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