The nutrition world is awash in fish oil worship. Typically, when the entire scientific community, food industry, and more are all singing the praises of an isolated substance or substances (EPA and DHA in the case of fish oil), you can be pretty sure there are some blind spots. And indeed there are.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 are the two predominant types of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats play a role in the production of a wide array of important chemical messengers in our body that control everything from inflammation to bronchodilation. Generally-speaking, although there are a couple exceptions that we know of, omega 6 fats lead to the production of more inflammatory molecules, whereas omega 3 tends to lead to the production of more anti-inflammatory molecules.
Omega 3 and omega 6 fats compete in the body more or less, so when there is an excess of omega 6, there is usually a corresponding increase in tendency towards inflammation, bronchoconstriction, vasoconstriction, and so on. Omega 3, with opposite effects, has been shown to help reverse the imbalance, leading to predictable improvements in many conditions.
In reality, neither omega 3 nor omega 6 fatty acids are healthy in and of themselves. They are highly unsaturated fats, which mean they oxidize more easily in our kitchens, in our frying pans, and most importantly–in our tissues and organs. The peroxidation of these polyunsaturated fatty acids leads to the production of nasty chemical compounds in the aldehyde family.
So it’s probably ideal to limit polyunsaturated fat intake (both omega 3 and omega 6) as much as reasonably possible. The lower your intake of these fats, the more your body begins to produce its own form of polyunsaturated fat, ETA (or Mead Acid as it is also called). While ETA is still a highly unsaturated fat, it does not oxidize as easily, it lowers inflammation, and by all means seems to be a superior choice to the common types of polyunsaturated fats ingested in a typical western diet: EPA, DHA, and especially AA and LA.
I say “probably ideal” because the scientific community is scarcely aware of ETA’s existence, and very little research has been done to confirm its theoretical superiority.
So, if you are eating almost all of your food at home, made from scratch, and you are going to great effort to avoid vegetable oil, pork fat, poultry fat, nuts, and seeds–the richest source of omega 6–there is absolutely no reason to supplement with omega 3.
However, if you’ve been eating a high omega 6 diet for decades, or you’ve even confirmed through blood tests that you have a big omega 6 to omega 3 imbalance, you very well might want to consume a few grams of omega 3 with your low omega 6 diet for 6-12 months until your omega 6:3 ratio has come back closer to 1:1 (most of us are at more than 10:1).
Now, if you’re eating and living as a “normal” citizen, it is truly impossible to eat a relaxed diet, go to restaurants frequently, etc. and keep your intake of omega 6 low. Our food supply is completely saturated with omega 6, as three of the richest sources of linoleic acid (an omega 6 fat) just happen to be the three most commonly-used oils in our food supply: corn oil, soy oil, and cottonseed oil.
Thus, if you are going to eat a normal diet, YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY TAKE FISH OIL. Definitely! It is a great defense against the overconsumption of these oils, and a good defense against the other rich sources of omega 6 such as chicken, pork, and peanut butter.
It’s probably also a good idea to consume a decent amount of raw nuts and seeds if you are not being cautious about avoiding omega 6 in your diet. Nuts and seeds, although they are very high in polyunsaturated fat, contain a lot of nutrients such as vitamin E and several minerals that help to counteract the negative effects of omega 6, which is probably why they improve health statistics so dramatically compared to most other foods. Of all the nuts and seeds, flax and chia have the best ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. They actually have more omega 3 than omega 6, and they still contain plenty of vitamin E and minerals like other nuts and seeds.
In short, if you are going to eat a typical American-esque diet, supplement with fish oil, and add some fresh flax or chia seeds to your diet (flax seeds must be ground up to be absorbed). If the seeds are too much trouble, maybe have some walnuts and macadamia nuts instead.
If you’re cool with eating almost exclusively at home from food you prepare, or feel you need to in order to keep from feeling crappy, no need to supplement with any of that stuff if you keep your total PUFA intake very low.
And lastly, if you didn’t like this post, I recommend snacking on deez nuts. They are the lowest-PUFA nuts you can find.
About the Author
Matt Stone is an independent health researcher, author of more than 15 books, and founder of 180DegreeHealth. He is best known for his research on metabolic rate and its central role in many health conditions as well as his criticisms of extreme dieting. Learn more by signing up for his free Raising Metabolism eCourse HERE, which also includes THIS FREE BOOK.