Today, most people are eating way too many Omega-6 fatty acids.
At the same time, consumption of animal foods high in Omega-3 is the lowest it has ever been.
A distorted ratio of these polyunsaturated fatty acids may be one of the most damaging aspects of the Western diet.
Why Care About Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are called polyunsaturated because they have many double bonds (poly = many).
Our bodies don’t have the enzymes to produce them and therefore we must get them from the diet.
If we don’t get any from the diet, then we develop a deficiency and become sick. That is why they are termed the “essential” fatty acids.
However, these fatty acids are different than most other fats. They are not simply used for energy or stored, they are biologically active and have important roles in processes like blood clotting and inflammation.
The thing is… Omega-6s and Omega-3s don’t have the same effects. Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect (1).
Of course, inflammation is essential for our survival. It helps protect our bodies from infection and injury, but it can also cause severe damage and contribute to disease when the inflammatory response is inappropriate or excessive.
In fact, excess inflammation may be one of the leading drivers of the most serious diseases we are dealing with today, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, many types of cancer, etc.
Put simply, a diet that is high in Omega-6 but low in Omega-3 increases inflammation, while a diet that includes balanced amounts of each reduces inflammation (2).
The problem today, is that people who eat a typical Western diet are eating way too many Omega-6s relative to Omega-3s.
Bottom Line: An Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio that is too high can contribute to excess inflammation in the body, potentially raising the risk of all sorts of diseases.