Significance of Optimal Balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 Dietary Fats

Thousands of years ago, the diet of human hunter-gatherers was made up of approximately equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. The wild game, fowl and fish in that early diet fed on wild grasses and other plants or other wild animals whose diet was full of both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The levels of fatty acid intake of man did not change drastically until about 200 years ago.

With the advent of commercial agriculture, cattle and other domesticated animals were fed grains instead of wild grasses. The result was animals with more omega-6 and fewer omega-3 fatty acids. More recently, the production of omega-6 vegetable oils produced from these grains put dietary products on the market that overwhelmed the American diet with omega-6 fatty acids. In the last 50 years, vegetable oils have been hydrogenated to produce margarine and soft spreads which are rich in omega-6 fatty acids as well as trans fats.

Fast food industries serving deep-fat fried foods are now ingrained in American culture. They are convenient and make it easier to feed families on tight work schedules. Chips, pizza, pastries, cookies, pies, crackers and fried foods taste good and are inexpensive, but they are high in total calories from omega-6 oils as well as trans fats.

This steady increase of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet has resulted in an overwhelming surplus of omega-6 fatty acids and a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the Western diet is estimated at 20:1 and higher. Most believe that it is this imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids that has led to increased heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many of the inflammatory diseases prominent in the United States. As people of other countries begin to eat typical American fast foods, the rates of heart and inflammatory diseases are increasing in areas of the world where they once were rare occurrences.