How to measure the balance of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids -- and how to improve it
One of the main determinants of “silent” inflammations in our bodies that promote the development of cancer is the balance between omega-6 fatty acids (which favor inflammation) and omega-3 fatty acids (which reduce it). Here I discuss how to measure this key ratio, and how to act on it.
Since World War II, the farm animals that give us meat, butter, milk, cheese, cream and eggs are no longer nourished with grass and leaves; they are fed soy and maize instead. Grass is very rich in omega-3s, but maize contains none at all, and soy products contain very little. The animal products that we eat now are thus highly unbalanced, with far too many omega-6s and very few omega-3s. Since these foods are (erroneously) the basis of the Western diet, studies show that almost all of us are out of balance in terms of our omega ratio, with a considerable excess of omega-6s.
On average, people in the West have 10 to 15 times more omega-6s in our bodies than omega-3s. This is one of the reasons why all the diseases that are nourished by inflammation (arthritis, allergies, heart trouble, Alzheimer’s, depression and cancer) are in constant progression in Western countries.
To check your own omega-6/omega-3 ratio, you can ask a technician to draw your blood and send it to a specialized lab that measures omega-6s and omega-3s present in the hematids. (But be careful – not the levels present in the serum, but in the membrane of the hematids, in other words, the red blood cells). The ratio between them is a relatively constant reflection of the proportions of omega-6s and omega-3s throughout the body, including the brain.
If the ratio omega-6 (total) / omega-3 (total) is higher than 10, your body is in a state of inflammation – inflammation that is at least “silent” and possibly manifest (arthritis or other illness). In order to better protect yourself from cancer, you should ideally bring this ratio down below 3. (At latest measurement – in September 2007 – mine was 2.4). If you have cancer in an active phase, some naturopathic practitioners I have worked with recommend you bring the ratio to under 1 – in other words, you should aim to have more omega 3s than omega-6s in your body.
Be careful, though, because when the omega ratio drops too low – under 0.5 – it may increase the risk of hemorrhage, as we see in certain Inuit populations. (Nosebleeds are among the first symptoms).
How can we act on the omega-6/omega-3 ratio?
The omega-6s and omega-3s in our bodies come exclusively from our diet. They thus reflect exactly what we eat and drink. To lower the omega ratio, all we need to do is reduce dietary sources of inflammation-promoting omega-6s: red meat, especially if it is produced by industrial farming techniques and if it does not carry an “omega-3” label; dairy products; eggs not marked “omega-3”; sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, and soybean oil. Use olive oil, rapeseed oil, or a mixture of the two. We should also increase all sources of omega-3s: oily fish twice a week (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon); omega-3 eggs; nuts; lambs’-ear salad; green vegetables; linseed or flaxseed oil and flax seeds. Some people (and I’m one of them) also take omega-3 supplements (roughly 1g or 0.03 oz of the EPA-DHA combination) to make sure they have a regular and constant absorption of omega-3s even when they are traveling and find it difficult to maintain a healthy daily diet.
You can measure your omega ratio again after a period of at least two months: this will give your biology time to catch up with the changes in your diet. If you have followed the nutritional guidelines, your ratio will drop rapidly, and you should also begin to see positive changes such as silkier hair, stronger nails, softer and less blemished skin, and a better mood!