November 25, 2014
3 Supplements that work
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The Omega 6 fat misunderstanding and the Omega 6:3 ratio
The idea that Omega 6 fatty acids are unhealthy can be considered a misnomer. Just for a quick review, Omega 6 fatty acids are the fats found in oils such as canola, sunflower, peanut oil and many kinds of nuts. You may have also heard of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are also found in small amounts in nuts, however are more popularly known to be in fish and fish oils.
Both Omega 3’s and 6’s are essential fats, meaning your body cannot make them on their own. You have to get them from your diet. Omega 3 and 6’s are in the category of polyunsaturated fats, unlike olive oil which is a monounsatured fat, and butter or coconut oil, which are totally saturated.
It is widely believed that Omega 3’s are the anti-inflammatory fats and Omega 6’s are the inflammatory fats. These two statements are portrayed to the public as clear cut true, however they have been over simplified. Omega 3’s make up the fluidity of cell membranes, and important for brain function, normal cell growth and are considered “heart healthy.” On the other hand, Omega 6’s are converted to chemicals which mediate cell to cell signaling including pain and inflammation, and therefore are considered to be bad. As a generalization these statements are partially true, however both are necessary for normal body function and homeostasis.
The essential Omega 6 is called linoleic acid, which then is converted by a series of reactions and enzymes involving PLA2 (phospholipase A2) to arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid and subsequent pathways are the targets of many drugs such as NSAIDS (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc), aspirin, and corticosteroids, just to name a few.
Certainly these drugs are necessary in cases with excess pain and inflammation, however but it is important to appreciate inflammation and pain. Many of us are guilty of this at some point including myself. We may appreciate the fact that inflammation and pain are good things, but when they happen to us we forget the basics and want a quick fix.
Inflammation is actually the first step of healing and pain is your body telling you something is wrong! Additionally, it should be appreciated that these drugs are interfering with normal function of the body. The analogy of drugs being Band-Aids is appropriate here. Band-Aids may cover up the problem but do not address the source.
Furthermore, arachidonic acid is then converted into compounds called eicosanoids. The eicosanoids are prostaglandins, thrombaxanes, leukotrienes and prostacyclins. If you refer to the first figure, Omega 6’s and subsequently arachidonic acid is essential for leukocyte function (cells of your immune system), platelet function (blood clotting), endothelium (the lining of your blood vessels) and smooth muscle (your organ muscles and control over your blood vessels). How can Omega 6’s, which are important for these vital functions of the body be bad for you?
Take home points about eicosanoids:
Without inflammation, you would not heal. However, it is true that the over-consumption of Omega 6’s can promote a constant state of inflammation in the body. The constant state of inflammation has been proposed mechanisms for many disease states such as arthritis, heart disease, cancer, contributing to the rise of autoimmune disorders and many more.
This is where the Omega 6:3 ratio comes in. Researchers have estimated that Americans Omega 6:3 ratio is somewhere from 30-50:1. Ideally it would be 1:1, but most agree anywhere from 1:1 to 5:1 is acceptable. Research has concluded that consuming Omega 3’s competes with the enzyme which converts Omega 6’s to arachidonic acid and vice versa. To me this means that we need to eat a diet which has equal or as close to equal levels of omega 6 and omega 3’s. The good news is altering the ratio can therefore lower the state of constant inflammation in many Americans.
Options to obtain an ideal Omega 6:3 ratio:
For more information on how to figure out your ratio, Google Omega 3/6 balance score. I will cover this in a future blog post.
Final take-way point: Omega 6 fatty acids are not bad, we just get too many!
Note: the information here is not intended to replace advice from your Physician. Please see your Chiropractic or Medical Physician for more information.