Column #144

People frequently ask me about how long it takes to lower a high Omega-6 (n-6) to Omega-3 (n-3) essential fatty acid (EFA) ratio. Of course it all depends on an individual’s commitment, but a recent study provides a clue as to how fast it can change.

A couple of years ago Slanker Grass-Fed Meat, along with other Omega-3 food producers, assisted the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Military by providing food for a study. The published study was titled “Blood Fatty Acid Changes in Healthy Young Americans” by Andrew J. Young, et. al., and it analyzed how far and how fast a good diet changes the EFA ratio.

The report was focused on the importance of a low EFA ratio because “. . . research suggests that increases in n-3 fatty acid consumption may have beneficial effects on a variety of human diseases including cardiovascular and proinflammatory diseases, as well as psychiatric and neurological disorders and possibly obesity.”

Young recruited three volunteer groups to eat different diets for 10 weeks. The Control Group (CON) consumed meals from the U.S. Military’s Standard Garrison Dining Facility Menu. The Experimental Moderate (EXP-Mod) and Experimental-High (EXP-High) Groups ate the same meals as the CONs, but the meats, eggs, oils, and food ingredients were replaced with similar products that had less n-6 and way more n-3. The EXP-High Group was given an additional n-3 boost from smoothies containing 1,000 mg n-3 per serving, whereas other participants received placebo smoothies.

This was a very controlled study with committed volunteers. The high n-3 replacement foods were analyzed and many had EFA ratios of less than 2:1. Some had higher ratios, but most of the replacement foods were big improvements over the standard high n-6 foods served by the military and others such as hospitals, restaurants, and homes throughout America. During the study the participants indicated that all foods were equally palatable and judged suitable for military dining facilities and civilian cafeterias.

The study took the participants’ blood samples at the beginning of the study, at the five-week mark, and again at the end of the ten-week test. The average EFA ratio of the participants was 17:1 when the study started.

The following table shows how quickly the fat profile changed in the blood. Two different testing methods were used. One test used the Plasma Fatty Acid Concentrations analysis and the other the Erythrocyte or Red Blood Cell (RBC) Fatty Acid Concentrations analysis. In general, RBCs will be higher in long chain n-3 and n-6 than plasma. But the trend for changes in the ratios are similar. (The Omega-3 tests I take and recommend analyze a mix of RBCs and plasma.)

The plasma results clearly illustrate that within five weeks a proper diet can move the needle. Of course the CON diet didn’t change the ratio one bit. While in five weeks the EXP MOD group went from 16.5:1 to 7.5:1 and then leveled off. The EXP High group went from 17.2:1 to 5.2:1 and then leveled off. The smoothies containing 1,000 mg n-3 per serving helped accelerate the drop.

The RBC results were relatively the same. Once again the CON group basically didn’t change. The EXP MOD group went from 6.5:1 in five weeks to 4.3:1 and then 3.7:1. The EXP High group went from 6.7:1, to 3.5:1, and then 2.9:1 in ten weeks time.

The data shows how quickly a balanced n-3 diet can lower a high EFA ratio. But the change is limited by the EFA ratio of the entire diet. If the diet has a ratio of 4:1, it can’t take the ratio any lower than that. The study also suggests that deviations away from an n-3 diet will probably raise the ratio just as fast.

The best evenly balanced n-6 to n-3 foods are the green leafy vegetables, grass-fed meats that are only grass-finished, Omega-3 meats, wild caught seafood, and other selected vegetables such as zucchini. But when eating those foods the “high n-6/low n-3" foods must be avoided. The high n-6 foods are grains, grain-fed meats, seeds, nuts, most oils, many fruits, and even some vegetables.

I appreciate that the authors of the study gave a special acknowledgment to the many n-3 food providers one of which was Slanker Grass-Fed Meat. We were all proud of our involvement.

So, what will your ratio be in ten weeks?

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don't miss these links for additional reading:

Blood Fatty Acid Changes in Healthy Young Americans in Response to a 10-week Diet That Increased N-3 and Reduced N-6 Fatty Acid Consumption: a Randomised Controlled Trial by Andrew J. Young

The Importance of the Ratio of Omega 6 Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids by Artemis Simopoulos M.D.

Ted Slanker’s Omega-3 Blood Test

Get Your Own Omega-3 Blood Test and use slanker as a code for a discount

Food Analysis: GI, GL, Fat Ratio, Nutrient Load by Ted Slanker