Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils and nuts, whereas omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fatty fish. Although older studies showed that the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in blood were cause for concern, Dr. Harris explains that those concerns are likely unfounded. He notes that rather than focusing on decreasing omega-6 intake to improve the ratio, most people would probably benefit from increasing omega-3 intake instead to improve overall blood concentrations. In this clip, Dr. Bill Harris and Dr. Rhonda Patrick discuss how concerns over the omega-6/omega-3 ratio may be overblown.
Dr. Patrick: So many people out there that talk about the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and how... I'll never forget, I was submitting a paper for a review on omega-3s and I mentioned the omega-3 to omega-6 index ratio and, you know, how it could be negative and this was, you know, years ago and a reviewer just ripped me to shreds. I mean, totally came down with all this evidence that that was not true. Of course, you know, it blew my mind and I was like, "Wow, this seems to be convincing."
Dr. Harris: Well, I thought it was true. I wonder if I reviewed that paper. I don't know too many people or more.
Dr. Patrick: I think I do know who the reviewer was, but anyways, I can tell you off-camera. But I changed my mind basically. So, you know, this whole thought that the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is so important, everyone's so concerned about eating too much omega-6, which, you know, the dietary sources, major net dietary sources these days are vegetable oils, refined oils, but, you know, getting them through and then people become scared about getting them through whole foods like eating nuts, and flaxseed, and healthy food.
Dr. Harris: Oh, yeah. It gets crazy.
Dr. Patrick: Yeah. So what do you think...what are your thoughts on this ratio?
Dr. Harris: I agree. I mean, the ratio, I mean, the concept... Well, we haven't got that much time. Makes some sense. It's just, it's very imprecise because when you say omega-3, you don't know what you're talking about, ALA, EPA, or DHA. Could be any of them. And then when you say omega-6, you don't really know. There's 7 omega-6 fatty acids in the blood, which ones are you talking about? And so you don't know what this ratio...you can't act upon it because you don't know what you're acting upon. The other problem is you can have a high omega-3 intake and a high omega-6 intake or low omega-6 and a low omega-3 and have the same ratio. So that doesn't help because the problem is that you can fix a bad ratio by taking more omega-3, and that's the right way to do it, but you cannot fix and improve your health by leaving your omega-3 intake alone and just lowering your omega-6, which that ratio, people tend to do that. They say, "Well, I got to fix it." Well, the way to fix it, there's only one way to fix it. It's a good way to fix it. So eat more EPA, DHA. That's fine. If you want to play that ratio game and fix it that way, okay. But don't take it any further than that.
Dr. Patrick: A hundred percent agree with you. That's my thoughts, is that really, it's the low omega-3 intake that's a problem and that you need to increase that omega-3 intake. And that's pretty much what the reviewer was arguing for with a little bit of a well, you know, omega-6 is good. It's part of the cell membrane and you need linolenic acid, you know, so there's some of that, but...
Dr. Harris: Yeah. We published two papers with this consortium of 17 or 20 cohorts. We've had several other papers all looking at fatty acids and some outcome. And one of them looked at linoleic acid levels in the blood and cardiovascular outcomes and found that the higher the linoleic acid, the lower the risk for cardiovascular disease. And another paper looked at linoleic acid levels and risk for developing diabetes. Higher omega-3... Excuse me, higher omega-6 linoleic, lower risk for developing diabetes. So when you look at that kind of data when you're talking about a biomarker, it's not a dietary intake questionnaire thing that everybody question. So looking at a biomarker of omega-6 intake, linoleic acid, you can't make it. And higher levels are associated with lower cardiovascular and diabetic risk. It's hard to say they're bad. I mean, you could turn that around and say lowering your levels of linoleic is going to increase your risk for atherosclerosis and...
Dr. Patrick: I think these were a couple of the studies that the reviewer used as an argument against, you know, like what they're not. So...
Dr. Harris: People love black hats and white hats though.
Dr. Patrick: Right.
Dr. Harris: And just feels good to have... I hate this one. I love this one. You can't love both of them somehow or another. Somehow, I like omega-6 and omega-3. And that's... We can't do that. You got to hate one of them. I don't know.
An omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in plants. ALA can be converted into the omega-3 fatty acids EPA or DHA, but this conversion process is very inefficient in humans. When ALA is not converted to EPA or DHA, it remains inactive and is simply stored or used as energy, like other fats. Some evidence suggests an association between a diet rich in ALA and reduced risk of heart disease. Dietary sources of ALA include kale, spinach, soybeans, walnuts, seeds, and plant-based oils.
An omega-3 fatty acid found in the human brain and the meat of fatty fish. DHA plays a key role in the development of eye and nerve tissues, and is essential for normal brain function in humans. DHA may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease1 and cardiovascular disease, and may be useful in treating certain inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Dietary sources of DHA include krill oil and the meat and roe of salmon, flying fish, and pollock.  Patrick, Rhonda P. "Role of phosphatidylcholine-DHA in preventing APOE4-associated Alzheimer’s disease." The FASEB Journal (2018): fj-201801412R.
An omega-3 fatty acid found in the meat of fatty fish. EPA reduces inflammation in the body and helps counter oxidative stress in cells. It is crucial for modulating behavior and mood and has demonstrated beneficial effects in managing anxiety and depression. EPA may reduce risk of developing certain chronic diseases such as cancer or cardiovascular disease. Dietary sources of EPA include herring, salmon, eel, shrimp and sturgeon.
A type of polyunsaturated fat that is essential for human health. Omega-3 fatty acids influence cell membrane integrity and affect the function of membrane-bound cellular receptors. They participate in pathways involved in the biosynthesis of hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood. The human body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, but the efficiency of the process varies between individuals.
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