Omega-3 essential fatty acids have achieved the coveted status of “household words” in American life. You’d have to have been living under a rock to be unaware of their importance, as industry rushes to add DHA to orange juice and Omega-3 eggs are offered to the masses as a valuable dietary item. Still more advanced consumers realize the need for a dietary supplement, and are then forced to wade through a barrage of science (of varying degrees of validity) courtesy of manufacturers touting the benefits of their proprietary product. The underlying problem remains that Omega-3 intake doesn’t exist in a vacuum; our needs for omega-3 are definitely tied to our intake of omega-6 EFAs.
Probably no one understands this better than Dr Bill Lands.He has authored over 250 papers on Omega essential fatty acids and the widely heralded text book Fish, Omega-3 and Human Health. When I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Lands (through Stuart Tomc of Nordic Naturals) I was immediately impressed by his sincerity and modesty as much as by the huge scope of his personal research.
In a paper titled “Using 3–6 differences in essential fatty acids rather than 3/6 ratios gives useful food balance scores” Dr Lands describes how he and computer specialist Etienne Lamoreaux developed a calculator for helping individuals calculate the true Omega-3 to Omega-6 balance in their diet. The key is in the total amount of omega-6 in the diet relative to the total amount of omega-3. Using their calculations it is easy to see how, even if we are adding some Omega-3 rich foods and even supplements to our diet, the number of n-3 EFAs required is driven ever higher by the omnipresence of omega-6s in our diet.
“Not me!” the healthy consumer may say, “I eat well and I don’t eat lots of processed foods or Parkay.” This is a great first response! It shows that overall dietary awareness has led us to minimize obvious Omega-6 Overload added to processed foods in our food supply, but what about the intrinsic Omega-6 content of otherwise healthy whole foods? Dr Lands paper gives us a nice way to evaluate foods giving them a total number determining their 3-6 difference.
For example, he cites the following examples :
Cereals Grains and Pastas -3
Poultry Products -11
Fish & Seafoods +30
These are obviously broad groupings of data, but it may be useful to look at things in this context. If we are to ever reach a positive number, or even get to Omega-neutral status, we are either going to have to make enormous changes in our diet, or increase our intake of Omega-3 essential fatty acids much more than we all ready have. Most seafood, particularly farm-raised fish, isn’t that high in Omega-3. It really comes down to cold water fish, and some types of fish carry heavy-metal warnings which make overconsumption of them unadvisable.
In order to fully understand the importance of Dr Lands data, you will need to calculate the specifics of the diet you are eating, which is broken down individually on the Fast Learner calculator. You may be surprised just how much Omega-6 you are getting. Here is a weblink to their Fast Learner calculator. Add it up and you may be well surprised! More than likely the answer may be that you need to up your intake of Omega-3 and you will not be able to do it with diet alone. There are many reasons for this, but one is that even those on a ‘healthy diet’ are subject to changes in the overall environment. I know very few omnivores subsisting on grass-fed meat and diary, and many vegans rely on Omega-3 from ALA which is more poorly absorbed.
In case you need more motivation to become a fast learner, here is a piece of information that science has brought us. Omega-6 Overload may contribute to our risk of mortality. Also known as death. So, not only do we need to Eat the n-3; we also need to Nix the n-6! (Excluding GLA, by the way, which is the ANTI-INFLAMMATORY n-6 from Borage and Evening Primrose … have I confused you yet?)
Here’s the big fat idea : some of the so-called good fats we’ve been eating as Americans have been greatly contributing to the amount of inflammation in our bodies. And that folks, is a huge part of the disease process, not to mention physical pain, discomfort and decreasing mental acuity. Thankfully, we don’t have to suffer, we have the benefit of all this science. Which is, by the way, really just validating the traditional diets which have contributed to the longevity of many of our ancestors in different cultures.
In my opinion, the best way for most people to overcome ‘Death by Omega-6 Overload’, and their relative Omega-3 deficiency, is by supplementing with Nordic Naturals’ Omega-3 fish oil. I personally have been taking their cod liver oil for years, and have raised two exceptionally healthy children on it. I am a great believer in Arctic-D, a natural triglyceride fish oil which Nordic makes enhanced with natural vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol) the more bioactive form of this nutrient. For many years I have been eating a mostly plant diet, loaded with super foods, and I will tell you that most seeds, legumes and nuts are LOADED with Omega-6. This doesn’t mean they are bad, mind you. I still eat them, only now I have increased my all ready high Omega-3 intake to offset the information from Fast Learner.
Nordic Naturals also recently unveiled a line of vegetarian products including Algae Omega, with a vegan source of EPA and DHA. Dietary sources of ALA require conversion in the liver, while most fats (including our anti-inflammatory SUPER HEROES EPA & DHA) go to work in the endocrine system right away. This makes Algae Omega vastly superior to plant-based Omega-3 such as the EFAs found in Chia, Flax, Sacha Inchi, etc.
Whatever your dietary philosophy or practical considerations, remember this — you may not be getting enough Omega-3. More than likely you are getting too much Omega-6. Do the math. It may take a little paradigm-shifting to process the information fully, but change is good my friends. Change is good. Because when we stop changing, we are surely headed in the wrong direction.
Now my good friends Stuart Tomc and Eliza Leggatt from Nordic Naturals have really summarized the evolution of the Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 conundrum very well in The Essential Debate. Published in the February 2013 SupplySide Insights Tomc and Leggatt cite specific credible evidence, including Dr Christopher Ramsden’s recent re-exploration of the Sydney Diet Heart Study data to make their case, as does Dr Lands, that we need to ‘NIX THE SIX’. In other words, lets stop eating a pro-inflammatory diet, and start on a balanced diet that includes sufficient levels of Omega-3 to keep the inflammation gang in check! We need balance on a cellular level as much as we do anywhere else.