If you’ve been reading my articles for any length of time, you know by now how I feel about omega-3 essential fatty acids and their role in health, especially when it comes to their anti-inflammatory and brain-protecting abilities.
As you may know, inflammation sets the stage for a host of life-threatening diseases. If you have inflammation in your coronary artery, it puts you at greater risk for heart disease. If it happens in your joints, it can turn into arthritis. If it affects the lining of your airways, you can develop asthma or hay fever. If it affects your brain, you may end up suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. There’s really no part of the body that doesn’t have the potential to be harmed by long-term, chronic inflammation.
Unfortunately, inflammation is often the result of poor lifestyle choices. The link between lifestyle and inflammation makes sense when you compare how our ancestors ate to how most Americans eat today.
For centuries, diets consisted primarily of plants (fruits, vegetables, and legumes), game meats, and fatty fish. These animal sources were rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
But in the past 50 years, with the rise of processed foods, eating patterns have shifted. These man-made foods contain ingredients that actually promote inflammation, such as omega-6 fatty acids (found primarily in vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oils) and sugar. In fact, the amount of omega-6s we ate 50 years ago represented about 1.5 percent of our calories. Today, it’s an astounding 6–9 percent. One study found that the estimated per capita consumption of omega-6-rich soybean oil increased 1,000-fold from 1909 to 1999! Furthermore, this excess consumption has been a prime reason that most people’s concentrations of the two important omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, decreased so dramatically in the 20th century.1
Ideally, your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be as close to 2:1 as possible. But with vegetable oils so common in the standard American diet, even the most diligent dieter tends to consume way more omega-6s than necessary. (Some peoples’ ratios run as high as 15:1!) This imbalance actually reverses the powerful and important benefits of omega-3s.
You can certainly do what you can to tip the scales toward an anti-inflammatory diet, similar to how our ancestors ate. Your primary focus should be to limit or eliminate processed foods and vegetable oils and increase your plant-based and omega-3-rich foods, including as salmon, trout, mackerel, and albacore tuna. And as an extra insurance policy, I personally take an omega-3 supplement every day.
While this should help balance out your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in favor of omega-3s, the problem is, you just don’t know for sure. Until now…
Know Your Ratio
These days, omega-3 blood testing is becoming more and more common, and something that I think everyone should look into. Doctors can order the test to check your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, but you can also purchase an at-home kit that can tell you what your ratio is.
This simple pinprick test takes only seconds to perform. All you do is send your blood sample in to a lab for analysis and a few weeks later get your results. With your personalized analysis, you can learn what your results mean when it comes to your health risks.
Knowing your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is truly a first step toward adjusting your lifestyle and supplement regimen so that you can achieve optimal health. I’ve done it, and many of my friends and family members have too. It provides reassurance that I am successfully doing everything I can to prevent inflammation and the devastating diseases associated with it.
Blasbalg T, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93:950-62.