The Omega’s: 6 and 3

Are They Inflammatory?

Sally Feltner MS, PhD

Diet and Health, Diet Supplements, General February 23, 2021 5 Minutes

by foodworksblog Leave a comment

Fat is a key nutrient in our diet and is often the first thing you may note on a food label. Most foods contain a mixture of many different types of fat: the commonest are saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two major families: omega-6 and omega-3’s. Are some good and some bad.? This conundrum is often debated among nutritionists and still a definitive answer remains elusive.

What exactly are the omega-6 and omega 3 fats?

We have to begin with the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, linoleic (omega-6) (LA)  and alpha linolenic acids (omega-three) (ALA). They are called essential because they cannot be made in the body and must be acquired from the diet.

Linoleic acid (LA) is required for growth, healthy skin and normal functioning of the reproductive system and is a structural part of cell membranes.  Foods high in omega 6 fats include unhealthy foods like processed snacks, fast foods, cakes, fatty meats, and cured meats. Other omega 6 foods are healthy including tofu, walnuts, and peanut butter. They are also prevalent in vegetable oils, like corn oil, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils. Linoleic acid is converted in the body to another fatty acid called arachidonic acid (AA). Food sources of AA include meat, poultry, and eggs. The adequate daily intake (AI) for omega 6 foods is 17000 mg per day.

Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is also a structural compound of cell membranes and found in high amounts in the brain. Alpha linolenic acid is found in walnuts, dark, leafy green vegetables, flaxseed and chia seeds, canola and soybean oils.

ALA is converted in the body to two more fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DHA) which is what you find on fish oil supplement labels. This conversion rate of ALA to EPA can be slow and may depend on many factors, one being the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

EPA and DHA are found in fish, krill, and algae oil capsules as well as in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring and trout. The AI for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 grams (men) and 1.1 g (women).

Arachidonic acid and EPA are necessary for making hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids, hormone-like compounds that participate in regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting, inflammation, and a host of other important body functions.

So, the major players so far are: LA, ALA, AA, EPA, and DHA.

What is the omega-6/omega-3 ratio?

It is not enough to consume adequate levels of omega-3 fats but to avoid over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. Most modern diets contain excessive amounts of omega-6s and insufficient amounts of omega-3s. Americans regularly eat vegetable oils but eat fish infrequently, so we end up in the SAD with many more omega-6s and fewer omega-3s. i

The optimal 6 to 3 ratio approaches 4:1 that may be difficult for some people in our current food environment to achieve, so we try for 4:1 in hopes of realistically attaining less than 10:1. On average in the U.S., the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is a disastrous 16:1. Soybean oil, an omega-6 is so ubiquitous in the food supply that an astounding percent of calories from fat in the American diet (especially processed foods) are estimated to come from this single omega-6 source.

How Do Eicosanoids Affect Health?

Omega-6 fatty acids produce eicosanoids that tend to favor higher blood pressure, more blood clotting, and inflammatory compounds in the body.  They are often referred to as “bad” eicosanoids.

Omega-3 fatty acids produce eicosanoids with opposing healthier effects, i.e., lower blood pressure, less blood clotting, and anti-inflammatory effects.  They are often referred to a “good” eicosanoids.

Eicosanoids from omega-3 EPA can diminish the effects of the “bad” eicosanoids by producing opposing compounds that will help tip the ratio back to a more favorable eicosanoid environment in the cell.

Another way to improve the fatty acid ratio is to help block excess arachidonic acid formation. By making sure your body has an adequate amount of EPA that acts as an inhibitor of the enzyme that can produces the “bad” eicosanoids.   The higher the EPA in the diet, the more the enzyme is inhibited, and the less “bad” eicosanoids are produced.

The problem with vegetable oils

“Vegetable oils that turn rancid easily have been used since lard was designated as having a high saturated fat content when the low-fat craze to prevent heart disease was in full swing. The troubled history of these oils has never been resolved.  In a series of workshops in the 1980’s, it was observed that using diets high in soybean oil showed subjects dying of cancer at very high rates. Gallstones were also associated with diets high in vegetable oils. Subsequent research demonstrated that these oils that are high in omega-6, compete with the healthier omega-3’s found in fish virtually at important spots in every cell membrane throughout the body, including those in the brain.” (Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise).

The vast amount of omega-6 that has entered our food supply via vegetable oils appear to have literally swamped the omega-3’s (the supply of which has remained relatively constant over the past century. (Teicholz,  page 275-6). Conversely, the American Heart Association encourages Americans to eat more vegetable oils due to their ability to lower LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol.)

Nonetheless, excessive intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, has several risks. The double bonds in the fatty acid molecules are very reactive. They tend to react with oxygen, forming chain reactions of free radicals. These free radicals can cause cell damage, which is one of the mechanisms behind aging and the onset of cancer.

If you want to improve your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, it’s probably a bad idea to eat a lot of omega-3 to compensate. Having a relatively low, balanced amount of each is best. Using olive oil in salad dressings and coconut oil for cooking is recommended. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat and coconut oil is more stable since it has more saturated fat content. Neither are part of the omega-6 or omega-3 families.

What to Take Away from all this:

Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and α-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, are considered essential fatty acids because they cannot be made in the body by humans.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important structural components of cell membranes, serve as precursors to eicosanoids and provide a source of energy. Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in particular exert anti-inflammatory effects; it is recommended to increase their presence in the diet.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can be synthesized from ALA, but due to low conversion efficiency, it is recommended to consume foods rich in EPA and DHA or consume fewer omega-6 foods.

Some but not all observational studies using supplements have found fish intake to be associated with lower risks of cognitive deterioration and Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not yet clear whether supplementation with marine-derived omega-3 PUFA can help prevent cognitive decline. There is a great need for intervention studies, especially with DHA to determine if improvements in brain health will occur. The Rancho Bernardo Study of Healthy Aging found a protective effect of DHA from diet on various aspects of cognitive decline and/or dementia.

Best to cut down on omega-6 foods (processed and junk foods), add a couple of fish meals a week, use olive oil for salads, coconut oil for cooking.

Top 10 Foods with the Highest Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio

FoodRatio of Three to Six 
Snow crab (3 oz)61:1
Atlantic cod (6 oz)29:1
Tuna (6 oz)25 :1 
Mussels (3 oz)25:1
Broccoli Rabe (1 cup)7:1
Spinach (1 cup)5:1 
Flax seeds (1 oz) 4:1
Mangos (1 cup)3;1
Lettuce (1 cup)2:1
Kidney beans (1 cup)2:1

Sources:

Judith E. Brown. Nutrition Now Seventh Edition, 2013.

Life Extension, October 2019

Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

“The French Paradox”

The Way the French Eat: A Lesson to Keep in Your Mindful Mind

“In a study of four countries, food psychologist Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania found the following:

The French are the most food-pleasure oriented and the least health-oriented. In contrast, Americans had the worst of both worlds: They had the greatest worry over their health and had greater dissatisfaction with what they ate. Americans scored the highest on worrying about the fattening effects of food.

Interestingly, Rozin concluded that the negative impact of worry and stress over healthy eating may have a more profound effect on health than the actual food consumed. Indeed, it is widely accepted that stress triggers a biological chemical assault in our bodies, which is harmful to our health.”

“More information about the French reveals that the US currently has twice the incidence of overweight people compared to France for both adults and children. The French have a longer life expectancy, take less medication, and have a markedly lower rate of heart disease. Yet the French eat a diet that appears to be less healthy and this is popularly known as the French paradox. Notably, France has the highest per capita dairy fat consumption up of any industrial nation (think cream, butter and cheese ( saturated fat.).

Just as important, the French have fewer eating disorders and don’t engage in dieting as much as Americans. It has been speculated that wine consumption and eating smaller portions of food may explain the French paradox, “we believe it could be the relationship that the French have with food.   Even when the French eat fast food, they take more time to eat compared to the eating pace of Americans.

“According to the Calorie Control Council, 43% of dieters in the United States say that snacking too much is the reason they haven’t sustained their desired weight. Unlike north Americans who typically consume as many as three snacks a day, the French don’t usually partake in this between meal ritual .

“French children may have an after-school snack which can be a croissant with a hidden dollop of dark chocolate to tide them over until dinner, but regular snacking just isn’t part of the adult French culture. Their substantial lunch often usurps the need for an afternoon snack. Snacks are a novelty in France where in America snacks appear to be a necessity.” Snack calories add up quickly – they not only contain  fat and  sugar,  but  they are often eaten mindlessly. ” Bon appétit.

Source: Steven Jonas, M.D., Sandra Gordon. 30 Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Cuisines, 2000.

Evelyn Tribole, M.S.,R.D.and ElseResch, M.S.,R.D.,F.A.D.A., C.E.D. R.D.

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, 2012.

Health Indicators in France Versus the United States.

 Indicators United StatesFrance
Obesity (adults)62%32%
Life Expectancy78  years81 years
Medication costs per capita$897$607
Heart Disease death rates per 100,000 -Women7921
Heart Disease death rates – Men14554
Incidence of Dieting26%16%
Use of snacks and beverages76%48%
Use of low-fat products68%39%
Duration of minutes eating at McDonald’s14 minutes22 minutes

Source: OECD Health Data, 2009-2010; Calorie Control Council National Surveys 1992. Rozin, 2003.

Diet and Aging: Can We Eat Meat?

Aging and Diet: Should We Eat Meat?

“Most of us have more control over how long we live than we think. In fact, experts say that if we adopted the right lifestyle, we could add a good 10 years and suffer a fraction of the diseases that kill us prematurely.”

In his book, the Blue Zones, 9 Lessons for Living Longer, Dan Buettner and his team from the National Institute of Health set out to visit 5 regions on our globe that had a long record of longevity. From those lessons, a balanced diet became paramount in life extension. Here is what Robert Kane, MD, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis said:

“One of the goals to a healthy lifestyle is moderation in all things. The best diet is basically one of moderation. You hear about all these people that live on legumes and plant foods and that’s probably okay, but I don’t think it’s necessary… as far as meat, it’s a question of eating meat a couple of times a week or are you eating it every day for two meals a day (typical of the Standard American Diet).  Are you eating processed meats that are filled with fat? Or are you eating good cuts of fairly lean meat?”

In Okinawa (one of the Blue Zones) “while centenarian Okinawans do eat some pork, it is traditional to only eat it in small amounts and for special occasions.

Reference: The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest. Dan Buettner, 2012.

FYI: What does certified organic actually mean?

Organic Foods– From the USDA

Organically grown and produced foods can be labeled four ways:

“100% Organic” if they contain entirely organic produced ingredients.

“Organic” if they contain at least 93% organic ingredients.

“Made with organic ingredients” if they contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

“Some Organic ingredients” if the products contain less than 70% organic ingredients.

What does any label that says “organic” mean? What are the criteria for organic certification?

USDA rules for qualifying as organic. 

Plants:

Must be grown in soils not treated with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides for at least three years

Cannot be fertilized with sewer sludge

Cannot be treated with radiation

Cannot be grown from genetically modified seeds or contain genetic modified ingredients

Animals:

 Cannot be raised in “factory-like” confinement conditions

Cannot be given antibiotics or hormones to prevent disease or promote growth.

Must be given feed products that are 100% organic.

Or you can make your own sign - not recommended.
Or you can make your own sign – not recommended

OBESITY AND COVID?

“It was the 1980’s. The average weight of Americans increased by fifteen to 20 pounds between 1980 and 2000. Clothing sizes grew bigger to accommodate bigger people: waistbands became elastic. How did this happen? The following article discusses the health implications of the “other epidemic” – that resulted by the time COVID struck an obese population in 2020.

CLICK HERE

Marion Nestle in Let’s Ask Marion: What you need to know about politics of Food, Nutrition and Health. 2020..

Looking for a New Resolution?

A healthy new YEAR’S RESOLUTION is simple; TRY THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET – a diet pattern that offers variety as well as many health benefits and a great way to begin the year.

Highlights of the Mediterranean diet – source Life Extension, Dec. 2021 Michael Ozner, MD

There is no one Mediterranean diet. In thousands of studies, the Med diet has been reported to be one of the best lifestyle strategies for extending longevity and avoiding the common disorders of aging, including heart disease and cancer.

In 1990s, the first Mediterranean Pyramid was created by a non-profit group called the Oldways Preservation Trust, in cooperation with the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization. It was based on food patterns seen in  the Mediterranean areas of the olive-growing countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, Spain and southern France in the 1960’s.

A clinical trial showed that those who adhered most closely to a traditional Med diet appeared less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than those who at least had a better chance of healthy aging, defined as living to 70 years or older with no major physical or mental impairments. For diet details, search this blog as Mediterranean Diet.

Components of the Med Diet to show proven health benefits:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

Omega-3 Fatty acids

 Vegetables and fruits

Whole Grains

Clinical trials and observational studies have found particularly strong evidence that the Med Diet protects the heart and lowers the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular death.

However, this diet pattern is beginning to show that the diet can reduce the risk for other chronic diseases associated with aging.

Metabolic Syndrome

A meta analysis of 50 studies including nearly 535 people found that following the Med Diet was associated with a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms associated with heart disease that include:

  • Decreased HDL (“good cholesterol”)
  • Increased waist circumference
  • Increased blood pressure
  • High glucose levels
  • Increased triglyceride levels

Diabetes type 2

Another study of subjects with a high cardiovascular risk showed that a Med Diet compared to a low fat diet reduced the risk of developing diabetes type 2 by 52% .

Alzheimer’s Disease

In a study lasting four years, in patients showing no signs of dementia at baseline, greater adherence to the Med Diet was associated with a significant reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Cancer

In a meta-analysis of 83 studies that included 2, 130, 753 subjects, the highest adherence to a Med diet was associated with the lowest rates of many cancers, including colon, breast, stomach, liver, and prostate and a lowest risk of cancer mortality. The diet’s benefits were attributed to a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, i.e. a plant based diet.

 Longevity

Several studies have specifically shown that the Med Diet increases longevity.

One study analyzed the diets of 10,670 women in mid-life with a median age of 59 years. Greater adherence to the Med Diet was related to 46% greater odds of surviving to 70 years or older with no major impairments in physical function or mental health.

Another study of adults 65 and over also found that closer adherence to the Med Diet was associated with prolonged survival. Many components of the Med Diet including omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and polyphenols from fruits and vegetables have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation. Be sure and search Food, Facts, and Fads for diet and disease as well as the Mediterranean diet for more details about this powerful message.

The New Food Culture? Plant-based Diets

“So many people are confused about food; the eating plan of the moment changes and suddenly there are new rules to follow. But with plant-based eating, there is [more] freedom to eat what you want.” —Cassidy Gundersen, holistic nutritionist.

This article is quite long but worth reading to reflect on what type of food culture may be waiting for the future. Interesting topic!!

CLICK HERE.

More About Garlic?

I am not a promoter of supplements except in situations when you don’t want to smell like a raw garlic bulb every day.

More Good News for Garlic Lovers

Editors Note: Metabolic syndrome is becoming a marker for good health especially in the older population; however its presence can occur even in younger people. It is diagnosed as having three of the following disorders: high triglycerides, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and low levels of HDL cholesterol. These disorders collectively are thought to contribute to a higher risk of developing diabetes and/or heart disease

A randomized clinical trial included 90 men and women with metabolic syndrome were supplemented with tablets containing 1600 mg of garlic powder daily for three months, or a placebo.

Garlic supplementation Improves metabolic syndrome. Phytother Res. 2021, May 11.

In the garlic group, results were as follows:

All parameters were reduced along with appetite, fatty liver index,and waist circumference. Additionally,  beneficial HDL cholesterol was significantly higher than at the beginning of the study compared to the placebo group. 

The Power of Plant-Based Nutrients. Life Extension, October, 2021.

“Then, there is cancer. Compounds in garlic have been shown in many laboratory studies to be chemoprotecive. Epidemiological studies shows a decreased risk in stomach and colon cancer in areas where consumption of garlic is high. An article In the Journal of Nutrition stated that “evidence continues to point to the anticancer properties of fresh garlic extracts, aged garlic, garlic oil.”

Source: Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. 2007.