Column #38 April 29, 2016
After years of deliberation, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), a nonprofit trade association of manufacturers, marketers, and supporters of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acid products, recently announced it recommends 500 mg of Omega-3 daily.
GOED promotes the marine-based, long-chain Omega-3s (EPA and DHA) and its website is loaded with credible articles about the positive benefits of Omega-3. So it’s a mystery why GOED took years to recommend a dosage of only 500 mg per day. This dosage can’t counter the 537 mg Omega-3 deficit to Omega-6 in just one conventional egg!
GOED’s conclusions disappoint in other respects too. They emphasize fish oils but discount land-based alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the one Omega-3 the body cannot synthesize. Yet the body does synthesize EPA and DHA from ALA. They don’t explain that all three types (ALA, EPA, and DHA) are extremely important. Nor do they emphasize the importance of the 1:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA).
Ignoring the EFA ratio is a glaring omission. For decades, science has shown the natural Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio in the membranes of living cells to be about 1:1. That is the natural EFA ratio in grasses (which are the foundation food for animal life) and the EFA ratio in grass-fed animals.
GOED downplays ALA’s importance by stating only 5% at best can be converted to EPA and DHA. Other studies on this topic estimate ALA is partially converted to EPA at 8–20%, while conversion rates of ALA to DHA range from 0.5–9%.
Omega-3s play important roles in the immune system, brain, and nerves. Thousands of studies conclude that ratios above 4:1 are associated with many chronic diseases whereby ratios of 1:1 are not. They also show DHA accounts for about 20–50% of fatty acids in the brain and the retina. So DHA is important too. But the DHA emphasis may be overrated when one’s EFA balance is 1:1 and most of the Omega-3 fats consumed are short chain ALA. That’s because the efficiency of the ALA conversion to longer-changed EPA and DHA is best at that balance.
So, whenever a “dose” of Omega-3 fatty acids is recommended, it needs to be balanced with the dietary intake of Omega-6 fatty acids to optimize body function. Eating fish and taking fish oil can certainly increase one’s Omega-3 level. But just taking 500 mg of Omega-3 won’t help the average American achieve a 1:1 balance because most Americans consume about 20,000 mg of Omega-6 and only about 2,000 mg of Omega-3 per day. Since the dominate fatty acid blocks the absorption of the other, a diet with a 10:1 ratio may become 14:1. In this case an extra 500 mg of Omega-3 is almost meaningless.
The only way to achieve a 1:1 balance is to drastically reduce Omega-6s (grains, nuts, vegetable oils, grain-fed meats) and eat more grass-fed and Omega-3 meats, wild-caught seafood, and green leafy vegetables. Then a 500 mg Omega-3 supplement could be meaningful.
To your health.
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.
For additional reading:
Quantitation of ALA Elongation to EPA and DHA as Affected by the Ratio of n6/n3 Fatty Acids
by Harnack, Andersen, and Somoza
The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases (abstract only)
by Artemis P. Simopoulos
An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity
by Artemis P. Simopoulos
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
Harvard School of Public Health