Sunday, March 10, 2019

Retrospective #22: Too Much Omega 6; Too Little Omega 3

If you haven’t heard about fish oil supplements, like the caveman in the (2011) Geico commercial, you’ve been living under a rock. Fish oil, especially cold-water fish oil, contains a high concentration of Omega 3 fatty acids. Together with Omega 6 fatty acids, these are known at Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s). They’re “essential” because the body can’t make them easily. We therefore ideally should get them through our diet. And since most people don’t eat a lot of cold-water fish, supplementation is an easy way to get Omega 3’s. So, Omega 3 supplementation is probably a good thing to do. I did it, for more than 15 years: 2 grams a day, every day, each gram containing enough of the Omega 3 compounds EPA and DHA that together they give me a combined EPA+DHA total of 1 gram.
There is also solid evidence that when combined with a low-carbohydrate diet, fish oil supplementation will significantly lower serum triglycerides, an important blood lipid marker for cardio vascular disease (CVD). The effect is dose dependent and additive if you are taking a statin. I was once on a statin, and for about a year took 4 grams of fish oil daily and very dramatically lowered my triglycerides to about 50mg/dl, where they remain today. If I were to do it again, today, I wouldn’t take more than 3 grams a day, and I wouldn’t do that for more than a year.
So, getting enough Omega 3’s, and even lowering serum triglycerides, is easy if you take a fish oil supplement and eat Very Low Carb. The real problem with the EFAs is that we consume way too many Omega 6’s. Way, way too many. Ten or twenty times too many. They are hidden and omnipresent in our modern diet. They are the main component in polyunsaturated fat in the vegetable oils (soy bean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and Canola oil) that are ubiquitous in the fried foods and baked goods that we eat every day. Don’t believe me? Check out the label. It’s there. Soy bean oil and corn oil are the primary cooking oils in America today. More than 70%.
Quoting Enig and Fallon’s “The Skinny of Fats,” “Problems associated with an excess of polyunsaturates are exacerbated by the fact that most polyunsaturates in commercial vegetable oils are in the form of double unsaturated Omega-6 linoleic acid, with very little of vital triple unsaturated omega-3 linolenic acid. Recent research has revealed that too much omega-6 in the diet creates an imbalance that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins.34 This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.35” See the footnotes at
Improving your Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio will not be easy. You really don’t want to swallow more than two grams of fish oil a day. And while fish oil will lower your serum triglycerides, and thereby slightly raise the n3 denominator in the n6/n3 fraction, it will only slightly improve the n6/n3 ratio. So, to make a real difference you will need to identify and eliminate the Omega 6’s you are eating. That means changing your diet: eating less fried food, and eating fewer processed foods made with any vegetable oil. If you need added motivation to do that, scroll down to Retrospective #21 below to read more about “The Dangers of Polyunsaturated Fats.”
Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” makes a frightening case for the omnipresence of corn in industrial food. The second part makes a good case for ways to avoid industrialized food. Pollan’s “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” would also be a good guide here. Scroll down to Retrospective #17 for my nuanced take of him.
But my favorite food guide is Kurt Harris’s “Archevore” Way of Eating. He calls for eliminating the Neolithic Agents of Disease (NAD): WHEAT, EXCESS FRUCTOSE, AND EXCESS LINOLEIC ACID (OMEGA 6 FATTY ACIDS). His plan for doing that is outlined in a 12 easy-to-follow step program provided in Retrospective #19, also below. Take a look.
Both of these guides provide principles for healthy eating. This past winter (2011) I went to a Mets Spring Training game in Florida, and the folks next to me were eating fried dough sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. I looked at it and said (to myself): all three Neolithic agents of Disease (wheat, sugar which is 50% fructose, and vegetable oil for frying). I was drinking a beer (wheat) and eating peanuts (legumes). So, in practice, even the “well informed” slip.

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