Nutrition and Homeopathy

OMEGA HARMONY: HOW BALANCING YOUR FATS CAN TRANSFORM YOUR HEALTH

Maintaining the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet is crucial for optimal health. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for the body, but the ratio between them is even more important. The Western diet, characterized by processed foods and certain cooking oils like vegetable or seed oil, hydrogenated fats, often leads to an imbalance with excessive intake of omega-6 compared to omega-3. This imbalance has been associated with inflammation and an increased risk of chronic diseases – Cardiovascular Diseases, Type 2 Diabetes, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Asthma, Obesity, Psoriasis, and many others.

Historically, human diets had a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids close to 1:1. Modern diets, especially Western diets, tend to have ratios ranging from 10:1 to 50:1, heavily skewed towards omega-6 due to the high consumption of processed foods and vegetable oils like soybean, corn, and sunflower oil. As a functional nutritionist, I aim for a ratio closer to 3:1 or even 2:1 to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases and improve overall health.

WHAT YOU CAN ACHIEVE:

  • Regulating Inflammation
  • Improve Cellular Health
  • Chronic Disease Prevention
  • Improve Cardiovascular Health
  • Boost Mental Health
  • Regulate Gene Expression
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

A group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with a crucial role in cell membrane function, anti-inflammatory processes, the cardiovascular and nervous systems.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): Humans cannot synthesize ALA because we lack the enzymes to insert double bonds at the omega-3 position of fatty acids. Therefore, ALA must be obtained through diet. Sources: plant-based sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and their oils.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): ALA can be converted to EPA in limited amounts in the human body, though the conversion rate is quite low. EPA can also be elongated from dietary sources. Sources: Marine sources like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), fish oil, and algae.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Like EPA, DHA can be synthesized from ALA in humans, but the conversion rate is even lower than that for EPA. It can also be obtained directly from dietary sources or synthesized from EPA. Sources: predominantly marine sources, including fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as fish oil and algae oil.

The conversion of ALA to EPA and further to DHA in humans is inefficient, with estimates of conversion rates varying widely but generally low. Factors such as the presence of other fats, overall diet, genetics, and gender (females tend to have higher conversion rates than males) affect this conversion. Given the inefficient conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA, it is important for most people, particularly those who do not consume fish, to consider direct sources of EPA and DHA. This can be through dietary intake of fish or supplements such as fish oil or algae-based omega-3 supplements, which provide a direct source of these critical fatty acids.

It’s challenging to pinpoint the single most important health benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, as their effects are broad and critically impact various aspects of health. However, IMHO their anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular, and gene expression benefits are the highlight among the many others.

 

OMEGA-3 BENEFITS

  • Anti-inflammatory properties – omega-3 fatty acids can significantly mitigate inflammation by producing eicosanoids that are generally less inflammatory and can counteract the effects of those made from omega-6 fatty acids. EPA also competes with arachidonic acid for the same metabolic enzymes, reducing the overall production of pro-inflammatory compounds. Beyond simply modulating eicosanoids, EPA and DHA help produce special molecules called specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), such as resolvins and protectins. These molecules are very effective at calming down inflammation and helping tissues heal. They’re like the body’s natural way of switching off the inflammation alarm when it’s no longer needed, which helps prevent long-term, chronic inflammation.
  • Improved lipid profile – Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, are very effective in lowering high triglyceride levels, which is a major marker for cardiovascular diseases. They are also believed to improve the quality of LDL particles, making them less likely to contribute to atherosclerosis.
  • Gene expression – Omega-3 fatty acids can influence how certain genes in our body behave, especially the genes that are involved in causing inflammation. Essentially, these fatty acids work like a switch, turning on or off the functions of genes (TNF-α, NF-κB, IL-1β, IL-6) that produce substances (inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, prostaglandins) leading to inflammation. By affecting these genes, Omega-3s help reduce ongoing, long-term inflammation in the body, leading to chronic inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in relation to the Apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene. APOE is crucial for lipid transport and metabolism in the body. It has several alleles, with APOE4 being particularly notable for its implications in various health conditions, most famously cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease (Type 3 Diabetes).
  • Cellular health – Omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated into the phospholipid bilayer of cell membranes, affecting the fluidity and function of these membranes. Fluidity affects how membranes allow substances to pass through, how they interact with other cells, and how they facilitate the activity of membrane-bound proteins and enzymes. Increased fluidity improves cell function, including communication and signaling processes, including those involved in inflammatory responses, thereby altering the immune response and reducing inflammation. EPA and DHA can enhance the ability of cell membranes to repair themselves after damage and improve resilience against physical stress.
  • Brain health – omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can influence brain health. DHA is crucial for maintaining neuronal cell integrity and fluidity, providing neuroprotective benefits. In APOE4 carriers (the genetic variation of APOE gene with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s), who are more susceptible to neuronal damage, increasing omega-3 intake might help mitigate this risk and delay the progression of Alzheimer’s by supporting brain cell repair and function.
OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS

Another group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with a crucial role in cell membrane function, inflammatory processes, and the regulation of metabolism.

Linoleic Acid (LA): as an essential fatty acid, LA cannot be synthesized by the human body and must be obtained from dietary sources. Sources: abundant in many vegetable oils, including safflower, sunflower, soybean, and corn oils. It is also found in nuts and seeds.

Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA): GLA is a derivative of linoleic acid, synthesized in the body but this process can be inefficient, so direct dietary sources can be beneficial. Sources: Good sources of GLA include evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil.

Arachidonic Acid (AA): AA can be synthesized in the human body from linoleic acid through a series of elongation and desaturation steps involving enzymes. Sources: while it can be produced internally, it’s also found in animal products like meat, poultry, and eggs.

 

OMEGA-6 BENEFITS

  • Cellular health – omega-6 fatty acids, particularly arachidonic acid (AA) are integral components of cell membranes, influencing their fluidity and function. They are precursors to important signalling molecules known as eicosanoids, which include prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes. These molecules are involved in regulating inflammatory responses, blood pressure, and other critical physiological processes.
  • Inflammatory processes – inflammation is a negatively associated process, however, this is the natural way for the body to heal and omega-6 fatty acids play a complex role in modulating inflammation. The proper function of inflammatory processes is necessary for metabolic health, like repairing tissues and responding to infections. Omega-6 fatty acids, like linoleic acid (LA), can help regulate cholesterol levels by modifying the levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which are important markers for inflammation in the body.
  • Regulation of metabolism – Omega-6 fatty acids influence metabolism, including the regulation of blood sugar levels. Particularly gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels and facilitating the uptake of glucose by cells for energy. Enhanced insulin sensitivity means the body can more effectively use insulin to lower blood sugar levels, which is crucial for preventing and managing diabetes. Omega-6 fatty acids are also involved in the pathways that metabolize fats. They can affect the rate at which the body converts fat into energy. By influencing these pathways, omega-6 fatty acids can help regulate energy use and storage, impacting overall metabolic health. They are also involved in the synthesis and breakdown of triglycerides in the liver, which is critical for maintaining healthy lipid levels.
  • Gene expressionOmega-6 fatty acids can influence the expression of various genes involved in metabolic processes, affecting everything from lipid metabolism (PPARs, SREBPs) to inflammatory responses (NF-κB, IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-α). The main way omega-6 fatty acids affect gene activity in our bodies is through their byproducts, which act like signals. These signals interact with specific targets and controllers inside cells to influence how genes behave. This can change how cells function, affecting everything from how the body uses fats to how it responds to inflammation.

All the specific effects and benefits depend on the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, as well as the presence of other nutrients that can compete or synergize with specific pathways. Both types of fatty acids are essential, meaning the body cannot produce them, and they must be obtained through the diet and adequate supplementation. Strive for a balanced ratio rather than eliminating one group entirely. The goal is to reduce the imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6, promoting an anti-inflammatory environment in the body.

Key considerations for achieving a balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids:
  1. STREAMLINE YOUR SOURCES:

        Increase Omega-3 Intake:

  • Fatty Fish: Include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout in your diet. These are rich sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Plant-Based Sources: Incorporate plant-based sources of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, including flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and algae-based supplements.

        Choose Better Sources of Omega-6:

  • Vegetable Oils: Limit the use of oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, such as corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. These oils are commonly used in processed and fried foods.
  • Processed Foods: Reduce the consumption of processed and packaged foods, as they often contain oils high in omega-6 fatty acids.
  1. READ FOOD LABELS:
  • Check food labels to identify the type of oils used in processed and packaged foods. Opt for products that use oils with a healthier balance of omega-3 to omega-6
  1. USE BALANCED COOKING OILS:
  • Choose cooking oils that provide a more balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Olive oil and saturated animal fats are examples of oils with a better composition for cooking.
  1. CONSIDER OMEGA-3 SUPPLEMENTS:
  • If obtaining sufficient omega-3 from dietary sources is challenging, consider omega-3 supplements. Quality fish oil supplements or algae-based supplements are common options.
  • When buying them, make sure they are (1) from natural sources, specifically from (2) small fish to limit contamination with heavy metals or from (3) marine micro-algae for vegans; (4) contain more DHA to EPA ratio.
  1. MAINTAIN A VARIETY IN DIET:
  • A diverse and balanced diet contributes to a healthier fatty acid profile. Include a variety of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to ensure a well-rounded nutritional intake.
  1. MONITOR AND ADJUST:
  • Regular Testing: It can be beneficial to check fatty acid levels through blood tests to understand your current fatty acid profile and adjust your diet accordingly.
  • Genetic testing: for your APOE, PPARG, IL-1, IL-6 variations can be a valuable tool for personalized health management.
  • Personalized Nutrition: Everyone’s health and nutritional needs are different. Tailoring the omega-6 and omega-3 intake according to individual health goals and current health status can lead to better outcomes.

Achieving a balanced intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is essential for maintaining optimal health and preventing chronic diseases but it’s also an intricate process. Understanding the substantial roles these fatty acids play from reducing inflammation to enhancing cellular and mental health, highlights the importance of dietary awareness and personalized nutrition strategies.

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