Regarding Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio

@Susan_RD_101 You are the best writer ever. Your blog made everything clear to me in the first time in my life. If only you could write a blog about my life and make that clear to me. :)

There is one thing I don't understand and it's to do with the recommendations of the authorities. If they found that our ancestors probably got a 1:1 ratio why do they recommend a higher amount of Omega 6? Is it because they think we just can't cope psychologically or physically be able to not eat Omega 6 in this environment and they are compensating for that? Or why do they think we need more than our ancestors? This is the part in your blog I'm referring to:

The exact ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 needed for disease prevention/treatment is unknown. Most health organizations recommend a ratio of 4:1, however, a ratio of 2-3:1 may be beneficial for those with certain diseases, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis

If they don't know then where are they coming up with this ratio? Or why? Are they afraid if we get 1:1 we will be deficient in Omega 6 and be unhealthy?

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Comments

  • ...fat-soluble pollutants (such as dioxins) are stored in the fish’s fat cells and are incorporated into our own body’s cells through a process called bioaccumulation.

    Susan, do you know is it known if our bodies can remove this pollutant from our body if we ingest fish? If we ate fish once a week could the body remove this? Or is it unknown? Because this does not sound like a good thing having pollutants incorporated into our cells.

    If you avoid fish, it is recommended that you take a microalgae supplement providing at least 500 mg of DHA/EPA per serving.

    Is it known if this form from the microalgae is completely compensating for not eating fish? So this is getting the later form of DHA/EPA but not the pre-form of Omega 3? Is this what the fish eat to get these fats in the first place? Aside from a supplement can you just eat "fresh" microalgae? Or is that not possible. What about all the land animals that don't eat fish? How do they get these fats then?

    Thanks Susan. Sorry for the barrage of questions.

  • Sorry one other thing. When the fish oil companies say that they purify the oils are they unable to completely remove the pollutants that are at the cellular level of the fish?

  • Wow, this is exactly the kind of topic I wanted to start ! This is a big mistery for me too, why is recommended 17g of Omega6 and 1.6g of Omega3 (a ratio of 10:1), if they say that a ratio of 2-4:1 is the right one !?
    You may say, ok, I will ignore the recommendations of the medical institute and I will go for a 3:1 ratio. So far so good. But we cannot eat ratios. We have to translate this ratio to absolute values of Omega6 & 3. But how ? Because this ratio can be obtained from an infinite set of values. 4.8g Omega6 + 1.6 Omega3 and 17g Omega6 + 5.6 Omega3 gives the same ratio of 3:1. So, what should I choose ? Do you understand my confusion ? :/

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • Whoa, I had a large reply and it disappeared.

  • Right? That's what I'm confused about too. I could eat a ton of Omega 6 and still make the ratio correct, but I will get sick from the volume of Omega 6 foods I ate. And the ratio of 10:1 doesn't make sense. What does it correlate to? Where did they come up with that? I worry they say to make it a lot more Omega 6 in the ratio 10:1 instead of 1:1 or even 2:1 because there is a lot of junk food in the world and they are afraid to shock us and tell us to only eat a 1:1 ratio. Using the 10:1 ratio as an example - it can't be right that every human being of every size could physically eat the amount of food for the Omega 6 - lets say they ate 10 cups of crisps or any junk food, but as long as they make the Omega 3 correct ratio this is okay?

  • I don't feel like retyping my reply, so here's a video I made to answer a few of the questions:

  • A mod recovered my post for me:

    As far as I can tell, the rationale behind the ratio of n-3 to n-6 has to do with the fact that they compete for access to many things in the body. They compete with each other for the use of enzymes, like FADS1, D5D, or D6D. They compete with each other for residence in cell membranes. They compete with each other for signalling roles. They compete with each other for immune function control. They compete with each other for transport into or out of cells. So, the idea of an ideal ratio makes sense in principle.

    But, absolute amounts matter quite a bit, in addition to the ratio. So, if you find out that your n-6:n-3 ratio is 30:1, what's the preferred course of action? Well, we don't actually know without knowing the absolute numbers. If you're getting 60g of n-6 per day and only 2g of n-3, the clear course of action is to severely decrease the n-6. If you're getting 6g of n-6 per day, and .2g of n-3, the correct course of action is to raise the n-3. Same ratio, two different solutions.

    ...is it known if our bodies can remove this pollutant from our body if we ingest fish? If we ate fish once a week could the body remove this? Or is it unknown? Because this does not sound like a good thing having pollutants incorporated into our cells.

    Good question. Your body's ability to remove heavy metal contaminants is largely dependent on your zinc status. Since zinc can linearly modulate the expression of metallothionein, a protein designed to chelate heavy metals in the body. So, in theory, eating zinc rich foods like oysters or red meat could potentially mitigate some of the effects of eating certain fish. But, I think it makes sense to just limit the intake of problem fish species.

    The type of fish matters a lot. Since heavy metals and certain toxins biomagnify up the food chain, large predatory fish are far more problematic than smaller fish in general. So, sardines and herring have little to none of these problems in general. Whereas swordfish and shark can be very problematic if eaten regularly.

    So this is getting the later form of DHA/EPA but not the pre-form of Omega 3? Is this what the fish eat to get these fats in the first place? ... What about all the land animals that don't eat fish? How do they get these fats then?

    The EPA and DHA in algae is bio-identical to the EPA and DHA found in fish. So, algae supplements with sufficiently high EPA and DHA can substitute for fish if all you're concerned with is getting EPA and DHA.

    These fats bio-magnify up the food chain. You start with herbivores who are extremely good at converting the plant precursor fatty acids; alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid to EPA DHA, and arachidonic acid (and I mean they're REALLY good at it). Then you have predators with poor conversion capacity that eat them, eating the richest part of their prey like the brains and bone marrow, and they acquire their EPA, DHA, and AA like that. So, long story short is that it all starts in the guts of herbivores in the ecosystem.

    Humans are omnivores, so we're somewhat in-between. Humans have HUGE variation in our capacity to derive meaningful EPA, DHA, or AA from ALA or LA. About half of the population converts at a 5:1 ratio, and the other half converts at a 20:1 ratio. Which is probably because we have a history of consuming massive amounts of animal foods that included the brain and bone marrow. But, we also had times of food scarcity that necessitated us being able to get at least a little of these essential fatty acids from plant foods in the short term.

  • Thank God (and mod), it was recovered ! :) It happened to me on other forums. I think the session expires when you take too much to write. Make sure you select all and hit Ctrl+C before pressing "Post" button of every forum.

    Now I think I am begining to understand. I will go for your Omega3 and 6 amounts from your other post, meaning 3g Omega3 and 7g Omega6, with a ratio of 2.3, and I will set an upper limit for Omega6 at 17g.
    But I noticed another thing. I choose to eat fat 32% of total calories, meaning 70g. If I eat only 10g of polyunsaturated Omega 3 and 6, this would mean that the remaining 60g of fat I should consume monounsaturated ones, because trans and saturated fats are bad (I know, you said that saturated are not bad :tongue: ). But I can avoid all saturated fats, so I think they will add around 10-15g. That leaves 45g for monounsaturated. It is not too much ? There are some people on the internet saying that it's not big difference between saturated and monounsaturate fats, they are all kind of bad.

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • Yeah, I don't really have any good advice for how to titrate different proportions of fat in the diet. As someone who's never bought into the idea that saturated fat is bad, I've never given it much thought. But, I imagine fish, avocados, and olive oil on salad can fill up quite a bit of the poly- and monounsaturated fat.

    The idea that saturated fat is dangerous comes from the fact that it pretty much universally raises total cholesterol in humans. Monounsaturated fat has a neutral effect on total cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fat lowers total cholesterol. However, it's not exactly clear what the precise costs and benefits are for these effects is. SFA raises total cholesterol by downregulating liver LDL-receptors, but it also uniquely raises HDL-cholesterol. PUFA lowers total cholesterol, but the mechanism seems to be a 50/50 mix of upregulating liver LDL-receptors and actually oxidizing the LDL particles themselves. It's unclear if this LDL-lowering effect is actually beneficial. I'd say that on balance it probably isn't. Meaning that I don't think the hypothetical benefits of merely lowering LDL-cholesterol with PUFA is worth it. If anything, eating SFA seems to protect the LDL particle from oxidation. So, who knows. It isn't sorted out in the literature at all, so I choose to remain mostly agnostic about it. But, I do think it is prudent to lower n-6 fatty acids as much as possible, haha.

  • Wow! Long post.. I'll try to clarify as much as I can but apologies in advance if I miss anything.

    Regarding the ratio, I, nor the science, has all the answers you are looking for right now. When a lower ratio has been proposed (such as in the conditions mentioned in the blog post) it's because there is research to show benefit in that specific population. However, it's unknown if it is exclusively the omega 3 to 6 ratio that resulted in benefit and if the findings of one study of a particular population can be extended across all populations. In addition, although it's interesting to note what our ancestors ate, they should never, ever be our reference for what constitutes a balanced, healthy diet (for one, most of them didn't live until age 40 and for two, the food available today vs. in our ancestors day is as different as night and day).

    I tend to agree with @BRBWaffles in that the absolute intake of omega 3 and 6 is more important than the ratio. Omega 6 possess both pro and anti-inflammatory properties; remember, inflammation is still an important and necessary physiological function.

    I'm not an expert in mammalian nutrition (just human nutrition), so I won't comment on the essentially of omega 3 in other species. However, studies show that vegans consuming DHA are able to raise the cell component of DHA and EPA to a level that is similar in fish eaters.

    Regarding dioxins, it's difficult to measure their removal. While your body will work to remove things it doesn't like, if someone keeps eating fish, the surplus of pollutants can outweigh your body's capacity to remove them. I also agree that it's best to avoid problematic fish (which in general, are those that are larger and consume smaller fish). This discussion also demonstrates why the health of our oceans is important for our own human health.

    Regarding supplements, most impurities are removed but it's worthwhile to call the company and ask how they verify this.

    Finally, in regards to saturated fat. The most important piece of advice I can recommend is to not consider saturated fat only in relation to heart disease. This is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to nutrition research; it must stop taking place in a bubble. In regards to heart disease, a person's overall dietary pattern is more important than total intake of saturated fat. And plenty of people still have heart attacks, even if LDL cholesterol is normal. High intakes of saturated fat is linked to inflammation, an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cognitive disorders, and cancer risk (such as breast). There have never been risks associated with lowering intake of saturated fat, provided it's not replaced with refined carbs.

    Hope this clarifies a few things!

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
    cronometer.com
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:
    https://forums.cronometer.com/discussion/27/governing-terms-and-disclaimer

  • edited November 2018

    @Susan_RD_101 , I never understand what is that inflammation related to Omega 6. Google says that is something like when you hit your knees and it swells and gets red. But it doesn't make sense. Can you help me to understand ? I imagine it is a condition that generates diseases in the body... But what diseases can I make from the Omega 6 inflammation ?

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • @Marus

    Omega 6 is responsible for making markers that signal inflammation in the body. By itself, omega 6 doesn’t cause any inflammatory disease but it is believed that excessive intake of omega 6 may favour inflammation.

    Kind regards,

    Susan

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
    cronometer.com
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:
    https://forums.cronometer.com/discussion/27/governing-terms-and-disclaimer

  • edited November 2018

    I made a new RDA for Omega 3 and 6 with a more realistic ratio... :smiley:
    I chose the desired ratio for me (male, 38y) and then I adjusted proportionally the other age groups. But I don't know that this is ok for the smaller age groups. I know I'm not qualified to do this but we have to agree that a ratio of 10 is not healthy.

    @Susan_RD_101 and @BRBWaffles, I want to know your opinion !

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • Wow. I've never seen the official recommendations for n-6/n-3 laid out in a graph like that with the ratios included. If people actually follow this recommendation, no wonder everyone has heart disease, haha. 10:1 n-6 to n-3 as LA and ALA. That sounds like the perfect way to induce oxidative stress, damage LDL particles, and keep inflammation from being resolved properly. I think if anyone truly eats that way, they should probably double down on their vitamin E and vitamin C for a few months out of the year. Geez.

  • Unfortunately, many people eat more than 10:1 :neutral:

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • Hi, guys ! What do you think about flax seed oil (high quality cold pressed) ? I found it at a shop where I regularly buy healthy foods. A teaspoon of flax oil added to a salad will bring me 2.5g of Omega 3 (ALA) and only 0.65g of Omega 6 ! I want to take this and an Omega 3 supplement from algae with 500mg EPA/DHA. Do you think it's ok ?

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • I would avoid flax oil. Omega-3 may be good for you, but it oxidizes easily just like omega-6. Pretty much all polyunsaturated fats are uniquely vulnerable to spontaneous oxidation. Did you wonder why it needs to be sold in an opaque bottle in the refrigerated section? That's because even light and room temperature heat will cause the PUFA in flax oil to break down very rapidly. It makes a great pan seasoning oil, though. I buy it for that, but I'd never actually consume that stuff.

    The algae supplement is fine.

  • But then, how can I make my daily 3 grams of ALA ? Only from nuts and seeds ? They do not oxidizes too ?

    I don't understand "It makes a great pan seasoning oil, though". English is not my first language. :disappointed:

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • Well, your goal assumes it is wise to get your omega-3 as ALA to begin with. I think attempting to get any meaningful amount of omega-3 as ALA is pretty much doomed to fail. Considering that the reason it's recommended to consume ALA is because it can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. The amount of flax oil you'd have to guzzle, or nuts and seeds you'd have to eat, would be completely unreasonable, haha. Meanwhile, a 7.5oz salmon will give you around 6g of omega-3 as EPA and DHA directly. To get just 3g of DHA from flax oil you'd have to consume 8.5 tablespoons. To get it from walnuts, you'd have to consume around 23oz. The best strategy is just to eat fresh fish regularly.

    But yeah, nuts and seeds oxidize too. So does fish, but we normally eat fish fresh or store it in the freezer. Nuts you could store in the freezer, too.

  • edited November 2018

    I do not understand, we need only EPA/DHA ? This is the only reason for which ALA has been made an essential nutrient, for his conversion to EPA/DHA ? It is not used anywhere in the body as it is ?

    I eat fresh salmon, but more often I eat canned sardines and hering. Do you think canned fish it's ok ? I do not have a place to buy fresh sardines in my town...

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • Primarily, the biological function of ALA is to be converted to EPA and DHA. Otherwise, it's just metabolized like any other fatty acid. EPA and DHA are essential, ALA isn't. It's better just to get the EPA and DHA directly.

    ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA. But, the conversion efficiency is around 5:1 in half of the population, and around 20:1 in the other half for EPA. So, nobody converts particularly well. But among the best converters, only around 5% of total ALA intake makes it to becoming DHA. It's a joke to try to get EPA and DHA from ALA.

    Canned fish is fine. EPA and DHA remain pretty heat stable until around 180 C. The maximum temperature canned fish is cooked at is around 120 C under pressure, I believe. I eat a lot of canned fish.

  • Hi @Marus

    Thanks for sharing this chart; it’s very interesting to look at! Remembering that these recommendations are an AI, I would take them with a grain of salt. My general advice is to worry less about the actual nutrient levels and focus more on the food. I think it’s worth limiting intake of omega 6 fats by reducing intake of certain plant-oils and increasing omega 3 intake through either the intake of fatty fish (or algae), along with flax, chia, hemp, etc. Again, we don’t have enough evidence to determine the perfect ratio for omega 6 to 3, but in general, if you can get it around 4:1, you’re doing great!

    I agree that you don’t need to add flax oil to your food; technically it is processed and removing it from its shell also causes it to lose phytonutrients.

    EPA and DHA are more biologically active in the body than ALA. However, many of the foods that contain ALA (primarily flaxseed) have many health benefits, making them a worthwhile inclusion to your diet. My advice is as follows:

    1) Take a DHA/EPA supplement of at least 500 mg per day OR
    2) Eat fatty fish 2x per week
    3) Include unprocessed (uncooked) sources of ALA through ground flax seed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soy beans, and walnuts

    Hope this helps!

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
    cronometer.com
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:
    https://forums.cronometer.com/discussion/27/governing-terms-and-disclaimer

  • edited November 2018

    I already checked point 2 and 3 and I will take algae EPA/DHA too. But the thing is that I put anyway a little oil in the salad. I don't know, that's the way we eat salads. So the problem is what kind of oil to use, not if I use it or not. : )) Now I use olive oil and I was wondering if it would be better to use flax oil instead.
    I eat nuts and chia but I can not eat them every day. And I eat enough fiber and vegetales also.

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

  • @Marus

    Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fats so would be a good choice. I would also support the use of flax oil on a salad to bump up the omega 3 ratio; just store it in your fridge and smell it before you use it. On my salads, I will often use hummus or tahini (which is a great source of calcium).

    Oxidation = rancidity and you can smell when an oil is off.

    Kind regards,

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
    cronometer.com
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:
    https://forums.cronometer.com/discussion/27/governing-terms-and-disclaimer

  • Susan, I'm eating several sources of "healthy" fats, including EVOO, avocados, chia, and nuts. I noticed that I can easily balance my Omega 6:3 ratio by a tablespoon of chia seeds, but that seems deceptively easy, because I understand that chia itself doesn't have Omega 3, it has ALA which converts (inefficiently) to Omega 3 (apparently at a 15% or less ratio?). I'm concerned that that conversion factor may not be taken into account in the Cronometer algorithm that calculates Omega 3 for chia. Can you direct me to someone at Cronometer who can address this issue?

  • Hi Lin,

    The food called "Chia Seeds" comes from the Nutrition Coordinating Center. NCC reports Omega-3 values that may include the following fatty acids: 18:3, 18:4, 20:5, 22:5, and 22:6.

    ALA 18:3 (n-3) is an omega-3 fatty acid in that its first double bond is 3 carbons away from the methyl end of the chain. It is thought to be an important fatty acid in our cell membranes and serve a purpose in addition to its role as a precursor to the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids. Since we do not have the ability to make ALA ourselves it is considered an essential fatty acid and t is included as one of the omega-3 fatty acids.

    It would be great to have more data on breakdown of fatty acids in our foods, as well as more research on omega-3s requirements. I look forward to the day when we have well-defined nutrient targets for EPA and DHA separately.

    Best,

    Karen Stark
    cronometer.com
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:
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  • @Lin

    Even though small amounts of ALA are being converted to DHA and EPA, it's still an important nutrient and its inclusion favours the omega 3 (vs omega 6 pathway).

    If you don't eat fatty fish twice a week, I would suggest supplementing with a DHA and EPA supplement containing ~500 mg per day. This is the amount of DHA that most health authorities recommend for healthy adults.

    Kind regards,

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
    cronometer.com
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:
    https://forums.cronometer.com/discussion/27/governing-terms-and-disclaimer

  • Karen and Susan, thanks very much for your kind and thoughtful remarks. I do eat a lot of fish (between 6 and 8 2-oz. servings a week actually) but on the days when I'm not consuming Omega 3s directly from the source I'm supplementing with chia and a salmon oil supplement that contains 200 mg Omega-3s broken down into 80 mg EPA and 70 mg DHA. Karen, I was concerned about chia being an inferior supplier of DHA and EPA rather than as a superior ALA source, and since ALA its own benefits, you have encouraged to continue using it. I still feel a little uneasy about thinking of chia as a superior Omega-3 source in general, but viewed in perspective, regardless of what its Cronometer score is, I'll keep going with it.

    Besides, I really like chia pudding! I make it with a tablespoon of chia, 4 tablespoons of unsweetened hemp or almond milk, and 10 blueberries and let it sit in the fridge overnight. It's so yummy I never miss the sweetener.

  • @Lin Thanks for sharing that recipe! I don't think most people realize how simple (and healthy!) chia pudding is to make.

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
    cronometer.com
    As always, any and all postings here are covered by our T&Cs:
    https://forums.cronometer.com/discussion/27/governing-terms-and-disclaimer

  • edited December 2018

    So, only EPA/DHA counts for those 500mg ? DPA (22:5 n-3) not ? Or others ?

    I apologise for my misspellings, as English is not my native language.

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