Published on September 7, 2021
Fatty Acids: Omega-3 Versus Omega-6Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are both considered essential for the body, which means that they must be consumed via the diet. Throughout the course of history, both fatty acids were consumed in relatively similar quantities with a ratio of 1:11-4. In fact, it has been suggested that the Paleolithic (caveman) diet, which was consumed during the period when our genetic patterns were established, was low in total fat but high in polyunsaturated fat, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), EPA, and DHA1,2. In more recent times in many populations around the world, the introduction of agriculture has led to diets built around the consumption of grains; this dietary shift has increased the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids1,4. The omega-6 consumption has been further increased and the omega-3 consumption further decreased in the past century because of the industrial revolution, the emergence of agribusiness with processed foods, grain-fattened livestock, and hydrogenation of vegetable fats4.
Ratio for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fats
More specifically, Dr. Jorn Dyerberg (one of the world’s leading authorities on omega-3 fish oils) has written that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats typical of each dietary era are as follows: the caveman diet was 1:1, the agricultural revolution diet was 4:1, the industrial revolution diet was 10:1, and the convenience or fast food diet in the current North American society is anywhere between 14:1 and 25:15. Therefore, with each of the four major dietary shifts that have taken place, the amount of omega-6 fats consumed has increased and the amount of omega-3 fats has decreased5.
Balancing Omega-6 with Omega-3 Fats
It has been proposed that a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fats that is close to the balance of fats in the Paleolithic (caveman) diets, which humans ate for many thousands of years, is a better fit for our genetic makeup than the more recent agricultural diets and modern fast-food diets5.
How to Correct the Balance of Fatty Acids
The consumption of omega-3 fatty acids rich foods (particularly DHA & EPA) like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, fatty fish, seafood, fish oil and algal oil or supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can help balance the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids1,6.
1. Simopoulos, A.P., Evolutionary aspects of the dietary omega-6:omega-3 fatty acid ratio: medical implications. World Rev Nutr Diet, 2009. 100: p. 1-21.
2. Eaton, S.B. and M. Konner, Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. N Engl J Med, 1985. 312(5): p. 283-9.
3. Eaton, S.B., S.B. Eaton, 3rd, and M.J. Konner, Paleolithic nutrition revisited: a twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications. Eur J Clin Nutr, 1997. 51(4): p. 207-16.
4. Simopoulos, A.P., Evolutionary aspects of omega-3 fatty acids in the food supply. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, 1999. 60(5-6): p. 421-9.
5. Dyerberg, J. and R. Passwater, The Missing Wellness Factors: EPA and DHA: The most important nutrients since vitamins. 2012, Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications.
6.Harris WS. Omega-3 fatty acids. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:577-86.