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The Link Between Omega 3, Omega 6 and Lower Blood Pressure

Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Lower Blood Pressure. Learn recommended amounts, importance, and risks of excess omega-6

You've probably heard that you should have fish a couple times a week in order to get some Omega 3's, right? But have you heard that you need Omega 6's also?
While getting our fill of the great Omega 3 sometimes seems to be a challenge for us, you can bet that you probably have more than your share of Omega 6. Why is that, you ask?

Omega 6 - Similar to Sodium?

Tasty french fries with ketchup. Omega-6, like excess sodium, can be harmful. Found in oils like peanut, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower & safflower.Omega 6 is one of those essential fatty acids that we get in a similar fashion to getting too much sodium. It's found in nuts and grains, but where we run into trouble is because it's in peanut oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, regular sunflower oil, regular safflower oil, and corn oil.
Guess where those oils are found. You guessed it! Fried foods, fast foods, snacks, and processed foods – just like sodium, the other nutrient that can give us that dreaded high blood pressure! So while we actually need the Omega 6, most of us are getting waaay too much of it in relation to the essential fatty acid it works with, Omega 3.

How Much Omega 6 and Omega 3 Should You Have?

The actual recommended ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is between 1:1 and up to 4:1. Way back years and years and years ago, before the industrial revolution, people normally ate a ratio of about 1to 1 of these essential fatty acids. And, there was a lot less heart disease back then also.

 Image: Atlantic Mackerel - Rich in Omega-3 with 1,000-1,500mg per 3oz. A perfect balance to Omega-6 fatty acids for a healthier diet
Then, factories started processing food, and slowly but surely the ratio started getting wider and wider. You could probably say the waistlines did also!

 The average amount nowadays that people consume daily is about 10 – 15 times the amount that is recommended with an average ratio of 15:1 and up to 25:1.

The Three Basic Forms of Omega 3

·         ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) – which is found in walnuts, flaxseed oil, olive oil, and soybean oil. The body can convert small quantities to DHA, but as we age, that process slows down so supplements are recommended.

·         DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) – the best form which is found in fish oils. Since it's hard to get enough of this, 600 – 1000 mg of a supplement is recommended by doctors.

·         EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) – also in fish oil; if you are taking a fish oil supplement to get the DHA, you are already getting this form as well.

Basically, while Omega 3 is an anti-inflammatory, Omega 6 works against it by being inflammatory. But both are needed by the body. When I hear something is inflammatory, my natural response is to stay away from it. However, Omega 6 is one of those nutrients that you really need for:

·         Immune response

·         Reproductive health

·         Brain function

·         Hair and skin growth.

Consequences of Too Much Omega 6

It's kind of like sibling rivalry going on with Omega 6 as the bully. When there is too much of it, more inflammation starts going on in your body, which in turn can start the onset of diseases such as:

·         heart disease

·         type 2 diabetes

·         rheumatoid arthritis

·         asthma

·         cancer, and more

When you start getting the Omega 6 into the proper recommended ratio with Omega 3 of between 1:1 or 2:1 to 4:1, less Omega 6 is in the tissues which equals less inflammation; hence less chance of disease and more chance of better health.

Why Do You Need Omega 6 if Too Much Is Bad For You?

Even though having too much Omega 6 that is not balanced with enough Omega 3 can be bad for your health, it's still important to have enough.  Your body needs its fair share so you can have stronger bones, your skin, and hair can be healthier, and even for healthy brain function. 

To put it simply, Omega 6 fatty acids (usually linoleic acid in vegetable oils) get broken down in our bodies into gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). That is a good thing because it fights inflammation. 

One of the benefits of GLA appears to be helping with hypertension. Although more studies are needed, there is a study showing a reduction in systolic blood pressure by people who had leg pain when walking because of blood vessel blockages. The comparison was to those taking GLA (Omega 6) combined with EPA (Omega 3) to those taking a placebo. 

That study is listed on Mount Sinai's page here under Hypertension.

 And Just Why Is All This So Important?

My number one reason is that the EPA/DHA fatty acids found in the fish oil change into a hormone-like substance that keeps your cardiovascular system healthy.  And we all know that without a healthy heart, your life can get pretty scary and unhealthy.

Image: Blue King Crab - Packed with 614mg Omega-3 per serving. Fish oil converts to vital hormone-like substance for a healthy cardiovascular system.
But in reality, you can have an unhealthy heart and not even be aware of it. You could be having a good time with family and friends, and the next thing you know you could be in the middle of a stroke or heart attack.

According to www.epa.gov, not consuming enough Omega 3 is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and is more deadly than having too many transfats.

Is There Anything Else Omega 3 Is Good For?

         Memory:       I'm only 59, but lately I've noticed my kids saying, "Mom, don't you remember me telling you …..?"   Besides helping out with our hearts and helping to reduce plaque buildup in our arteries (per the American Heart Association), EPA/DHA is important for brain function; hence yet another reason to make sure you're getting enough!

·         Alzheimer's Disease: In fact, studies have shown that the EPA portion is helpful in the prevention of and possibly therapeutic against Alzheimer's Disease.

·         Pregnancy:   It's important for the brain development of the baby.

·         Osteoporosis:  Studies show that if you have good levels of  Omega 3, there is less bone loss as we age, and may even have better bone density because it may help increase levels of calcium.

·         Rheumatoid Arthritis:   While getting enough of the essential fatty acids seems to relieve the symptoms, it hasn't shown to slow the progression of the disease.

·         Many other diseases have shown that there is a possibility that getting enough of the Big O-3 (you know, Omega 3) can help out.        

How to "Nix the Six" and Do a Spree for the Three

To put it bluntly, when you cut down on the convenience of the fast food restaurants, snacks, and prepackaged and processed foods, and just change your diet up a bit by starting to add some of the foods listed below, your ratio will start sliding towards where you want it. Pick one or two of these to try:  

·         Fish:  salmon, sardines, Bluefin tuna, crab, cod, shrimp, or other white fish

·         Walnuts

·         Flaxseed or flaxseed oil

·         Spinach

·         Winter squash

·         Broccoli and/or cauliflower

Your body can't make these essential fatty acids, so it's up to you to make sure you are getting enough of them!

Study Shows Difference of Having One Fish Per Week Instead of Two Actually Makes a Difference!

One study actually showed that eating fish twice a week made a substantial difference in incidences of heart disease over having fish just once a week. So you can imagine how much more of a chance you'd have of having heart disease if you don't pay any attention to the recommendation at all!

While you may want to supplement your Omega 3's, studies show that the body absorbs them best by adding foods to your diet that are rich in the substance. Plus, it's just more enjoyable!

A note about tilapia: it is NOT recommended to eat this fish in order to get your essential fatty acids according to several sources.

 A side note on Omega 9: some supplements may include this "non-essential" fatty acid, but in effect, they are charging you for something your body can make on its own. Non-essential means your body can synthesize it from other things that you eat. So don't pay extra in a supplement for this.

Learn more: Here's a video of Dr. Hibbeln talking about the omega-3 and omega-6 balance ratio at the 2010 Integrative Mental Health Conference.

 Images courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Toby Hudson at commons.wikimedia.org/


Pubmed.gov. Simopoulos, Artemis P. The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases. Retrieved June 2008.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18408140/

Kresser L. AC, Chris. How Too Much Omega-6 and Not Enough Omega 3 Is Making Us Sick. http://chriskresser.com/how-too-much-omega-6-and-not-enough-omega-3-is-making-us-sick

George Mateljan Foundation.  The Health Promoting Polyunsaturated Fats.

Holub, Bruce J., Phd. Omega-3 Levels in Fish: Data Quality, Quantity and Future. November 4, 2009. http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/upload/day3f.pdf

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (www.pubmed.gov)  Intake of fish and n3 fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease among Japanese: The Japan Public Health Center-Based Study Cohort I. Published January 17, 2006.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401768

Oz, Mehmet. Daily Dose: Omega-3. Published June 3, 2010. http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/daily-dose-omega-3?page=2#copy
University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega 3 Fatty Acids. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids

Weil, Andrew, M.D. Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6? Published April 24, 2019.