Omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils with high proportions of linolenic acid) are best used by the body in a range of anywhere from a 4:1 to a 1:1 proportion with the omega-3 fatty acids. We need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Yet, an excess of omega-6 fatty acids can have dire consequences. Many scientists believe that a major reason for the high incidence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer is the extreme imbalance between our intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
The parent compound in the omega-3 fatty acid is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is this compound that serves as the "computer" or brain for the omega-3 fatty acid in determining how it will best maximize the body’s functioning.
Our ancestors evolved on a diet with a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Dietary changes over the last few centuries have changed this ratio anywhere from 20:1 to 25:1. This is clearly an equation for trouble, and today’s chronic health problems obviously exemplify this concern.
One of the primary reasons we ingest too much of the omega-6 fatty acid groups in our diet is the mass use of vegetable oils. This practice is so far-reaching that practically every fried food and snack food available has been cooked in soybean, corn, sunflower or canola oil. These oils are usually processed by hydrogenation. This changes their molecular structure so they are basically good for frying foods at a high temperature and providing a lengthy shelf-life in the grocery store. Unfortunately, these molecular properties in the omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, blood clotting and tumor growth.
The omega-3 fatty acids act entirely opposite. But, when the omega-6 fatty acids are disproportionately higher, the omega-3 fatty acids cannot compete with the omega-6 activity. When in balance, they work in concert, making sure for every action there is a reaction, helping to maintain stability in the body.
When the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids maintain a healthy balance; they effectively become clearinghouses or message centers to the rest of the body to:
- Formulate neural networks for brain activity in learning, memory processes and mood regulation
- Let the blood vessels know to either widen or narrow
- Alert the immune system to go into action
- X-port signals to blood platelets to clot or not by sticking together or separating and regulate inflammation
Trouble is brewed when one fatty acid overpowers another. Clearly, the data shows we need to seriously increase omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies are increasingly prevalent with young children. A Purdue University study showed that children low in omega-3 essential fatty acids are significantly more likely to be hyperactive, have learning disorders and to display behavioral problems.
In the general public, studies have linked omega-3 deficiencies to chronic health problems of diabetes, cancer, arthritis, inflammatory diseases, depression, heart disease, hypertension, memory problems, weight gain and some allergies and skin conditions. Researchers believe 60% of Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and approximately 20% of those have so little that test methods would not be able to detect even a trace in their blood.