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omega 6 omega 3 fatty acid ratio, can it kill you


This blog entry will take a look at the omega 6 / omega 3 ratio. I am an advocate for the use of abundant omega 9 found in olive oil because I base the care of my cirrhotic liver on what I ask it to do. I am a "Be Kind to Your Liver" guy so I have to pay attention to the actual bio-chemistry I want to support. In a previous journal entry I talked about the olive oil so now let's look at the two "essential" fatty acids, omega 6 and 3.

The essential fatty acids are called that because they can't be synthesized by the body and must come from the diet. Therefore the proper question is how much of each is good for me and is there an amount that is harmful? The answer to that comes from nutritional research. Looking at human diets over time, we estimate that as hunter gatherers humans probably had a diet that ranged between one to one up to four to one omega 6 to omega 3. In simple terms, more 6 than 3 but not an overwhelming difference.

In our modern society things have changed. Some research suggests that our industrial diet may have an omega ratio as high as 50 to 1. The fat balance in our diets has changed dramatically in the past two generations and mirrors the obesity epidemic raging in our society.

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The fat processes themselves are a hazard to liver health but is there more to the story? Generally the fat discussion is between saturated and unsaturated fats, but that ignores the question of whether all unsaturated fats are beneficial. Sadly, it is not that simple so lets take a look.

The bio-chemistry of fatty acids in the liver is very complex and far beyond this short piece, but there is one step in a long chain of chemical reactions that is critical to liver patients. In fibrotic disease like cirrhosis inflammation and the formation of scar tissue are fundamental. In that complex process one class of chemicals is quite important. Those are the eicosanoids. These chemicals participate in the inflammatory process by encouraging or promoting inflammation.

The thing to understand is that both omega 6 and 3 fatty acids can be converted to eicosinoids. That is important to the unsaturated fat debate because both corn and soybean oil are rich in omega 6 while olive oil is primarily omega 9. As our industrial food system uses more and more corn and soybean oil it is easy to see why our omega ratio has become one sided.

So, is there a difference between 6 and 3? Fortunately there is. Both forms of fatty acid can be made into eicosinoids but it is important to know that the omega 3 version is less inflammatory than the omega 6. If more of your eicosinoids are made from omega 3 you will have a more moderate inflammatory response and less liver damage. This is what leads to the dietary recommendation to eat fatty fish like salmon as that is the best source of omega 3.  It is worth noting that most discussions of this relationship say that omega 3 in anti-inflammatory. That is too simplistic because it implies that you can prevent liver inflammation by using nothing but an omega 3 which is not true.

My personal strategy is to use olive oil for most of my dietary fat and I use refined salmon oil daily to make sure that I push the omega 6/3 ratio lower. I also try to eat fish regularly but that is a challenge so I supplement.

Does this work? For me it appears to have halted the progression of my cirrhosis. Only time will tell and this approach won't necessarily work for everyone but I offer the information in case the details might be of some value.