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The Epidemic of Too Much Omega 6 and Not Enough Omega 3 in Our Diets
8/17/2015

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8/17/2015 - The Epidemic of Too Much Omega 6 and Not Enough Omega 3 in Our Diets (Health)

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The Epidemic of Too Much Omega 6 and Not Enough Omega 3 in Our Diets
Monday, August 17th, 2015
18:03:50 GMT

Health

This post is about health-related topics, so, I should probably point out this disclaimer, and also point out that I'm not a dietitian, nor a doctor, nor a nurse, nor a health care professional of any kind.

I'm just a layperson who sometimes likes to read, think, and sometimes even write about, health. (And maybe I was a doctor in a previous life in the early 1800's. :-) )

I'm 34 years old, never attended college (partly for financial reasons, and partly because of my sleep issues and shyness), and I have a GED instead of a normal high school diploma.

So, please don't blindly assume I know what I'm talking about, and please don't blindly assume that my ideas or personal health habits necessarily have any merit.


Please use common sense, and for hopefully trustworthy information, consult people such as health care professionals who are probably much more likely than me to know what they're talking about.

Also, this seems like a good place to point out the wonderful, fascinating book Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - who isn't a health care professional, and if I recall correctly, he didn't write about Omega 3 and/or Omega 6 at all in that book. And health isn't the main theme of the book.

But, he has a lot of interesting things to say about iatrogenics (problems caused by unnecessary, misguided intervention and tampering with nature), and many other fascinating things.




Thanks to my local library's (or Clevnet's) collection of temporarily-borrowable ebooks, I recently stumbled across a book called The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet: Maximize the Power of Omega-3s to Supercharge Your Health, Battle Inflammation, and Keep Your Mind Sharp by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., RD - a dietitian.

Again, I'm only a layperson, and I read that book so recently that I haven't even had much time at all yet to put ideas from it into practice. But, to me, it appears to be an excellent book.

It actually happens to answer a lot of the questions and concerns about Omega 3 fats I posted at the NHLBI Strategic Visioning Forum website back in May!

And I find it very sad that the issues the book pointed out way back in 2007 (the year the book was published) are still, as far as I know, not very common knowledge.


The benefits of Omega 3 fats are relatively frequently espoused. But, I think in general, on the web, the importance of the balance between Omega 3 fats and Omega 6 fats probably tends to be less often mentioned or not strongly emphasized enough, and many people are not aware of that issue at all. (That included me for a long time.)

The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book claims that even vegetarians are commonly affected by the Omega 6/Omega 3 imbalance problem, and surprisingly often even have it worse than meat-eaters do.

The book also points out numerous adverse effects of too much Omega 6.

Quoted from Chapter 1: "The problem with eating too much omega-6 fats is that they are disease promoting. In fact, the NIH's Essential Fats Education program makes a profound declaration on its website: excessive omega-6 fats in the diet trigger a rise in health problems, including heart attacks, blood clots, arthritis, asthma, menstrual cramps, headaches, and tumor metastases."


However, despite Omega 6's adverse effects when you have too much Omega 6 - both Omega 3 fats and Omega 6 fats are considered essential nutrients.

Unfortunately, Omega 3 and Omega 6 compete with each other for absorption by your body.

So, even if you get a lot of Omega 3 in your diet, it's possible that it's not doing you as much good as we would hope, because, depending on how much Omega 6 you consume, a lot of the Omega 3 might be getting crowded out by all the Omega 6 in your diet.


According to the The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book, possibly the optimal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in our diets might be as low as 1:1, though perhaps something like 2:1 or 4:1 might be OK too.

But our modern, industrialized diets commonly have Omega 6/Omega 3 ratios ranging from 10:1 to 20:1.


If I understand correctly what I read in The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book, this might be the result of two main problems.

One problem is the common use in our modern food products of certain vegetable oils and other ingredients which have a terrible ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3, such as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, palm oil, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated stuff, margarine, etc., etc., etc.

And another problem (which primarily affects meat-eaters and dairy consumers, as well as the poor animals) is our modern, industrialized, sick and twisted farming practices - where our farm animals and farmed fish are raised in cruel and unhealthy ways and fed the wrong foods, resulting in meat and dairy products with more Omega 6 than Omega 3.

Meanwhile, wild fish and pastured or free-range farm animals naturally tend to have a better Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio.


The proper balance and proper amounts of Omega 3 and Omega 6 might be able to help with a huge variety of health issues. So many that it's a chore to even try to list them all - so, sorry if the below is probably missing a lot of important details.

I compiled the below list based on info I read throughout The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book. Anything that caught my eye that the book said Omega 3 (or appropriately balanced levels of Omega 3 and Omega 6) seems to help with, I tried to note it below.

Again, sorry if I missed mentioning some important things.


Part 2 of the book The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet recounts lots of info from health studies done with both humans and (sadly) animals, about many of the issues listed above.

Those studies frequently found many positive effects of increased Omega 3 in combination with decreased Omega 6.


In Parts 3 and 4 of the book, there's info on how you can change your diet for (hopefully) the better, with a bunch of recipes, some meal plans, and lists of the Omega 3 and Omega 6 content of foods, etc.

The book also points out that you can look up a lot of nutritional information for free on the web.

The book provided this link:

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search


The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book also points out a software program called KIM2 (which stands for Keep It Managed 2).

But, the link the book provided doesn't work. Here's the non-working link anyway: http://efaeducation.nih.gov/sig/kim.html

Luckily, that web page and even the software itself are available from Archive.org:

https://web.archive.org/web/20130905174012/http://efaeducation.nih.gov/sig/kim.html

It's apparently only for Windows or Macs. Macs with OS 9!

I didn't try it myself and don't yet know whether or not it's free, libre, and open source.

Maybe, maybe not, judging by a page I found about the copyright status of works by the government and/or found on government websites: USA.gov - U.S. Government Works.


One confusing and lesser-known fact about Omega 3 is that there are multiple forms of Omega 3, and consuming only one form of Omega 3 is quite possibly not good enough.

There's the "short-chain" ALA form of Omega 3, which is found in plant sources. (One of the easiest ways to get a lot of ALA Omega 3 is to eat ground flax seed. More on that below.)

Possibly ALA can be converted by our bodies to other forms of Omega 3, but maybe only in insufficient amounts - unfortunately and inconveniently for vegetarians.


And then there are the longer-chain DHA and EPA kinds of Omega 3, which come from sources such as fish and some other meats (but, unless I'm mistaken, only if those fish and animals had enough Omega 3 in their own diets), algae, and grass.

The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book also mentions that purslane - a human-edible plant I had never heard of - is "one of the few plants known to contain EPA".


There's also a variant of Omega 3 called SDA - short for steardonic acid. (I had never even heard of it before reading The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book.)

The book says this form of Omega 3 is rather rare, and one of the few foods it exists in is hemp. However, the fact that hemp is so related to marijuana, and might even contain some amount of the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana, is enough to repel me from ever consuming hemp.

But, many people have no objection to hemp, so I thought I'd point it out despite my personal disliking for it.


Distressingly, the The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book says there are hardly any ways for a vegetarian to get enough DHA and EPA.

I already mentioned purslane and hemp above - but the book's main recommendation for vegetarians is to take an Omega 3 nutritional supplement containing the EPA and/or DHA forms of Omega 3.

Such supplements will probably contain algae oil, and if you're a really strict vegetarian, you'll have to be wary of any brands whose capsules contain animal-based gelatin.

The book mentions in Chapter 12 just before Table 12-4 that DHA can "retroconvert" into EPA, but I didn't see any mention of how helpful or not that is as a source of EPA.


I take the vegetarian Omega 3 supplement Ovega 3, even though I find it uncomfortably expensive, and I wish it didn't contain carrageenan.

Here's a page from Prevention.com (the website of Prevention Magazine) about carrageenan: The Natural Ingredient You Should Ban From Your Diet


Also, something that confused me a little about Ovega 3 was the unexplained fluctuation in the amount of EPA and DHA provided by Ovega 3.

The bottle of Ovega 3 I bought in November 2014 said it had 500 mg in all of Omega 3, with 320 mg of DHA and 130 mg of EPA - which add up to only 450 mg, not 500 mg, so I assume the remaining 50 mg necessary to add up to 500 mg is maybe some unmentioned ALA Omega 3?

Meanwhile, the bottle of Ovega 3 I got in early July 2015 says it has 270 mg DHA, 135 mg EPA, with 500 mg Omega 3 total.

So, compared to my previous bottle, that's 50 mg less DHA and 5 mg more EPA. And 270 +135 only adds up to 405 mg.


But, other than those issues, I like Ovega 3. But if anyone knows of anything better, I'd be happy to hear about it.

(Addition, Aug. 18/19, 2015: Another reason I like Ovega 3 is because the algae in it, according to Ovega.com's What is Ovega-3? page, is grown "in stainless steel fermentors within an FDA-inspected facility". It's nice to know it didn't come from a pond or something.)

The best price for Ovega 3 I currently know of as of August 17, 2015, is on Amazon - $26.40 for 60 capsules - and that's where I buy mine, despite Richard Stallman's page on Reasons not to buy from Amazon. Can't really afford to buy it anywhere else.)


I considered Nature Made's vegetarian Omega 3, but, this helpful Amazon review pointed out:

"There's nothing wrong with these pills, except you need to take two of them to get a full dose, so they're twice as expensive as you'd think!"

Which seems pretty sneaky, if you ask me. Nature Made's label (in the picture on Amazon, on August 17, 2015) says it has "540 mg EPA+DHA per serving" - but a serving is 2 capsules, and there are only 60 capsules in the bottle. So, you only get 30 servings total per 60-capsule bottle for $23.56 (Amazon's current price on August 17, 2015).

Meanwhile, Ovega 3 is said to contain 500 mg of Omega 3 in just 1 capsule - and you get 60 capsules per bottle. So, 60 servings total per 60-capsule bottle for $26.40 (Amazon's current price on August 17, 2015).

So, Ovega 3 is definitely the better deal. (At least as of August 17, 2015.)


Though The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book has some meal plans, recipes and other info tailored for vegetarians, the book strongly emphasizes eating fish. :-(

Even so, I'm still not going to go back to eating fish, even though I actually quite like the taste of some fish. My favorite (until I gave up fish) was salmon. I miss it a lot sometimes.

The edition I read of the book The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet was published in 2007 - before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010, and before the Fukushima nuclear disaster (2011). So, the edition I read says nothing on those topics.


However, the book does point out some suggestions for minimizing the amount of mercury contamination you might be getting from fish.

A short summary in my own words: short-lived fish which don't eat other fish might be less contaminated than fish with longer life spans which do eat other fish (and which therefore consume all the mercury consumed by all the fish lower down in the food chain).

The higher up in the food chain the fish is (for example, predators such as sharks), the more mercury contamination it might have.

And, again, the book recommends wild fish over farmed fish. See the book for more info.


According to this page from ScientificAmerican.com, even farmed fish might be contaminated with mercury, dioxins, PCBs, and various other bad things.

Which doesn't really surprise me, because I greatly mistrust any animal product industries, and I think that anyone capable of cruelly slaughtering or otherwise abusing animals might easily not really care what harm they do to humans, either.


It's worth re-mentioning here that The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book points out that another thing to be wary of is the fact that fish and other animals aren't necessarily guaranteed to provide much Omega 3, because their Omega 3/Omega 6 levels, like ours, are greatly dependent on their diets.

Farmed fish, or any other farmed animal, fed the wrong diet and raised the wrong ways, might not have very much Omega 3 at all, or the Omega 3 might be dwarfed by the amount of Omega 6.

So, the book recommends wild fish over farmed fish. And free-range or pastured meat. (But bear in mind that "organic" doesn't necessarily mean it's free-range or pastured.) And Omega 3-enriched eggs.


The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book cautions you not to assume that something enriched with Omega 3 is necessarily low in Omega 6.

Even some things that naturally have significant amounts of Omega 3, such as walnuts, also have a lot of Omega 6 too.

(Walnuts sure are tasty, though. Roasted walnuts from Nuts.com are among the best-tasting things I've ever eaten in my life. Too bad my financial issues prevent me from buying from them more often.)


The Ultimate Omega 3 Diet book suggests replacing commonly-used vegetable oils which are overloaded with Omega 6 (such as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, palm oil, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated stuff, etc.) with things like:


Flax seeds are quite healthy - here's an article about them from WebMD.com.

Flax seeds are also pretty low-cost. I get flax seeds from Nuts.com - currently only $2.99 a pound. Flax seeds are very easy to grind yourself with a coffee grinder.


I actually haven't been using ground flax seeds at all lately for many months now. But, when I do, I prefer to grind some every few days, and refrigerate or freeze any leftovers in a jar. Also, I keep my not-yet-ground flax seeds frozen too, even though I've read that they don't need to be frozen.

Ground flax is a pretty unobtrusive addition to oatmeal, cereal, toast, etc. Not very noticeable to me. I find it neither bad nor notably good, though I like it a little bit. In a lazy mood, I could probably tolerate eating a spoonful or two without even bothering to go to the trouble of mixing it into anything else.


Around Dec. 2013, I bought this coffee grinder from Amazon - KRUPS F203 Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, Black

(Despite Richard Stallman's page on Reasons not to buy from Amazon.)


With that coffee grinder, I'm easily able to grind up not only flax seeds, but also roasted peanuts, which resulted not in peanut butter, but peanut dust. :-) Never tried grinding up coffee beans, but I assume it would probably handle that fine too.

The grinder is about 6 inches tall, so, being inexperienced with coffee grinders and mechanical contraptions in general, I was surprised to find that the top compartment where you put things to grind up is smaller than I thought it would be - only around 2 inches deep.

But, that's not really a problem for me, since I think it's best to grind up small amounts of flax seeds frequently (for freshness) rather than large batches more seldom.


The idea of fasting is mentioned in the fascinating book Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (which contains a lot of stuff related to health, even though the author is not a health care professional and health is not the main topic of the book).

The author likes fasting and engages in it himself, on the theory that it's more natural and thus possibly healthier for humans to not eat as regularly as many modern people do. (At least the ones who are lucky enough to be able to afford to eat regularly.)

I suspect there might be some merit in those ideas, though I could probably easily be wrong.


Anyway, though - since I was so recently reading about fasting in Antifragile, that got me wondering if perhaps another approach to the Omega 3/Omega 6 balance problem might be to fast a little (like a couple hours) before and after taking Omega 3 nutritional supplements, in the hope of making sure the absorption of Omega 3 won't be interfered with by any recently-consumed (or soon to be consumed) Omega 6.

I don't know if there is definitely any merit in this idea, but, from now on, that's probably going to be how I'll take my Omega 3 supplements.

It will be easy for me to do, because I so often end up fasting unintentionally, usually due to getting lost in more interesting tasks than eating or food preparation.


I guess maybe I could also try taking an Omega 3 supplement before bed and after waking.

I don't want to use up my overly expensive Ovega 3 capsules that fast, though, so I will probably only take one per day, or maybe every other day or so.

Don't know if that's enough, though. A pity that poverty forces me to make tradeoffs like these. (Donations and microdonations are welcome.)

(Addition, Aug. 20, 2015, 4:26 PM EDT: But, on the bright side, at least I'm not so regularly getting a dose of carrageenan, which Ovega 3 unfortunately contains.)


And perhaps some ground flax sometime before a meal might give the Omega 3 a head start to be absorbed before the Omega 6 in the meal?

Don't know - just some ideas, which again, might or might not have any value. Again, I'm a layperson, not a health care professional.

I'm pretty sure avoiding Omega 6 altogether would be a bad idea, because it is considered an essential nutrient. So, I definitely wouldn't try to go that far. Just thought I should point that out.

Also, apparently it's possible to overdose on Omega 3 fish oil, according to this page from Livestrong.com, so again, please be careful.


Though I've neglected to mention it for a while - as always, comments are still welcome at the Eryss.Com Forum.

Click this link to display the blog comment thread hosted at the Eryss.Com Forum:

By the way, the only reason I haven't been putting a link or iframe to comments threads in my blog posts lately is because I wanted to automate that somehow, and I didn't get around to that yet. (Addition, Sept. 5, 2015, 6:07 AM. Still didn't get around to it, so I finally added an iframe and comment thread manually.)

Also, I keep neglecting to even log into my forums to check to see if anyone has tried to post anything.

Apologies in advance for the long delays people posting will quite possibly experience when I procrastinate about maintaining the forum.


Again, donations and microdonations are welcome.

(And, since I still have been avoiding my email, and am still preoccupied with my own projects - services and goods still aren't really available yet.)


Addition, Aug. 18, 2015 at 10:58 PM EDT: In this blog post from Non24.Com, I wrote (and quoted) a bit more stuff on this topic, but with more of a focus on sleep issues.

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