Essential Fatty Acids and the brain; Omega3s

We consume fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.  The perfect ratio is not agreed upon by the medical community, which causes no end of grief to the average person trying to eat well.  I am as confused as the rest of you.  You can talk about diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, or dementia; the advice about what you should and should not eat keeps changing! Doesn’t it?

I have blogged periodically about a variety of dietary approaches that make sense to me, like the DASH diet for high blood pressure and stroke, the MIND diet for dementia, the Ornish diet for heart health, for example.  The Mediterranean diet is my favorite, though, and it seems to be weathering the storm.  I have posted before how it helps prevent and manage depression (as well as heart disease, etc.).  The low glycemic index diet got my attention for a while, too.

Now, I add a new wrinkle–well, actually–an elaboration on an old piece of advice I have been making for years about taking omega3s.  I was happily going along saying you should take fish oils, flax seed oils, etc. to boost your 3s; I wrote about eating fish and seafoods, simply reassuring you that this was it took to balance your essential fatty acids (EFAs) and control inflammation and neuroinflammation.  (Don’t forget, the newest understand of destabilization in mental illnesses often cites low grade inflammation in the brain by glial cells as a modifiable part of the process).  What I didn’t realize until recently was how important it is to limit Omega6!  You see, there are many EFAs–omega 3,6,7,9 come to mind–and they all have different effects on cell metabolism all over the body.  Most notably, they control the manufacture of immune proteins (leukotrienes, arachidonic acid, thromboxanes, etc.).  Omega6 binds very strongly to these enzymes and activate the process considerably; Omega3 binds to the same enzymes weakly and stimulate the process modestly.  In other words, both EFAs appear to regulate production, but Omega6 always overrides Omega3.  Can you see where this is going?  If you are still eating Omega6 in your diet, all the Omega3 supplements in the world will be inconsequential.

So, what I am saying is this:  you have to reduce your Omega6s, too!  I will give you th list of the most common foods in the North American diet that are loaded in Omega6 and should be reconsidered:  soybean oil (look on your processed foods packages!), mayonnaise with soybean oil, vegetable spreads, oil popped popcorn, italian dressing, potato chips, margarine, tortilla chips, peanut butter.  Most cooking oils are loaded in Omega6 (remember, we are talking only about fats in the diet), and most nuts and seeds have Omega6 (except flax and chia seeds).  So, I now think of it as not having to be low fat like Ornish, but smart fat, instead.  Olive oil is a funny one.  It is high in Omega6, but it has so many other good properties in it, like antioxidants, etc., that it is good to eat, even though it changes your ratio.  You ratio?

Practically speaking, most of us in North America have a ratio of 10-20:1 of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in our diet.  You can see how that promotes inflammation.  So, the goal is more like 4:1, and ideally 1:1.  I will leave it with you to research how to reach this goal, but I offer you the following rule and the website it comes from:

“Nix the Six and Eat the Three”  (

It’s your next stop, if you are interested in knowing more!