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Do you have an unsafe omega 6 to omega 3 ratio?

By David Coory

A high ratio of omega 6 fat to omega 3 fat in our modern New Zealand diet is resulting in major health problems. This is particularly so when our ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is more than 9 to 1.

A healthy ratio is 4 to 1 (four parts omega 6 to one part omega 3). This is the long-lived Japanese ratio. The current ratio here in New Zealand, for those not taking fish oil supplements is rather scary at around 18 to 1.

Omega 6 is a polyunsaturated seed oil (commonly known as a vegetable oil) and too much is one of the main reasons for the epidemic of cancer all around us. Dr Ray Kearney, a Sydney professor of Infectious Diseases and Immunology writes: “Vegetable oils which are rich in linoleic acid (omega 6) are potent promoters of tumour growth.” *

Once our omega 6 to omega 3 ratio exceeds 9 to 1, our body’s immune system begins to shut down. This was accidentally discovered in the 1980’s when researchers were hunting for a cure to the problem of tissue rejection after performing organ transplants. They found an effective way to suppress the human immune system was to inject large dosages of omega 6 intravenously. However, the transplant doctors were astonished to see how quickly patients developed cancers and stopped doing this.

Fortunately the opposite approach has great health benefits. Studies show that when we reduce our ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 to a healthy 4 to 1, it results in a marked drop of cancer and heart disease (heart disease can drop a massive 70%). There is also a drop in inflammatory diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Nerve and brain disorders like MS, depression and Alzheimer's also decline.

Sources of omega 3 and 6 in diet

Both omega 6 and omega 3 are essential for health but the ratio is critical. Omega 6 is everywhere in our food, but omega 3 is comparatively rare.

Omega 6 mostly comes from margarines, polyunsaturated supermarket cooking oils (especially safflower, corn and soya oils) commercial baking fats (shortening), and frying fats used to cook fast foods. Food labels when available usually list these omega 6 oils as ‘vegetable fat’.

The few food sources of omega 3 are fish, flax seed, walnuts and the extracted oils of these foods, so omega 3 is typically seriously lacking in our modern diet. However it is now recognised that a high amount of omega 3 is not necessary, just the healthy 4 to 1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3.

We can correct this imbalance by reducing our omega 6 intake and increasing our intake of omega 3 by supplements, usually fish oil.

* Int Clin Nutr 7:157