Dietary intake of just the right amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is vital for optimal health. The balance between these two essential fatty acids is delicate, however, and too much of one and too little of the other can result in deleterious health consequences.
What makes omega-3 fatty acids special? Omega-3 fats are essential fats that you must get from your diet. They have many powerful health benefits for your body and brain. They are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They have important roles in processes like making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function.
Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.
Omega-3 fats are a key family of polyunsaturated fats.
There are three types of omega-3 fats:
- ALA (alpha linoleic acid)
- DHA (Docosahexanoic acid)
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are among the markers of a healthy diet. The effects of EPA are remarkable. Its consumption is a protection factor against atherothrombosis. It is negatively correlated to the occurrence of coronary accidents and sudden deaths. It could minimize the complications of diabetes, such as microangiopathy, polyneuropathy and nephropathy. The intake of DHA has a beneficial action on the vascular conditions. It is an essential element and plays a role in the correct functioning of the brain. A deficit of DHA has been observed in certain forms of depression and cognitive disorders. A reduction of EPA and/or DHA acids may be due to a lack of intake of these fatty acids or a reduction of their synthesis. This latter situation may be observed in cases of deficiency of cofactors (iron, magnesium, B-Complex vitamins and vitamin C), genetic or acquired deficits.
Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, and normal growth and development. As a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), omega-6s help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system. There are four types of omega-6 fats:
- LA (Linoleic acid)
- ARA (Arachidonic Acid)
- GLA (Gamma linoleic)
- CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid)
Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid. It is therefore not synthesized by the system and is supplied only by food.
An excess of linoleic acid can have consequences favouring inflammation and platelet aggregation and have a thrombogenic action. It favours blood viscosity, vasoconstriction and oxidation of LDL. It is positively correlated to coronary risk. It also inhibits the synthesis of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic (omega 3) acids.
An excess of arachidonic acid is a factor increasing inflammatory and cardiovascular pathologies.
Omega 6 and Omega 3 Ratio
The ratio of omega-6/omega-3 can be too high, or the level of important omega-3 (EPA, DHA) is too low. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids compared to a normal range between 2 and 7 times with an optimum ratio of 3 times. This imbalance is associated with adverse clinical effects in the short and long term, in descending order of importance: ventricular arrhythmias and sudden death risk, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, Crohn’s disease, mood disorders / aggression, hyperactivity with attention deficit disorder.
Epidemiological data associate good status in omega-3 or good balance omega-6/3 with a reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease and colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. GISSI-prevenzione studies have shown that consumption of 1g/day of EPA and 1g/d of DHA reduced overall mortality by lowering the risk of sudden death. A DHA intake of about 3g / day lowers triglycerides 20 to 25% and raises HDL cholesterol.
The EPA also lowers triglycerides but has little effect on the cholesterol and its fractions. The intake of EPA does not generally raise the DHA levels due to a suppressive effect. DHA at 4g / day can reduce blood pressure and heart rate of patients with hypertension. At this dose DHA may affect glycemic control in patients with diabetes type 2.
At the Swiss Biological Medicine Center, we provide detailed diagnostics for Omega 3 and Omega 6 and design a patient tailored rebalancing process to bring the two fatty acids into balance for a healthy life and reduced health risks.