Omega Fatty Acids #2: Getting to Balance

April 22, 2009

Omega Fatty Acids #2:  Getting to Balance 

 Competency # 13  Fats           Reference: Minireview, Center for Genetics, Nutr and Health, 2008 

 Okay, so we can’t make our own omega fatty acids and our diet has changed dramatically in the last 150 years.  The omega-3 family used to be balanced by the omega-6 family in a ratio of about 1: 1.  Now it’s 15:1.  Why is that a problem? The picture of why the imbalance may be a problem is continuing to evolve.  It requires knowing a few more basic facts.  

Here is part two of the story. Key Concept # 4:  Your body uses omega fatty acids as precursors to a whole bunch of hormones called eicosanoids.  We are most familiar with the prostaglandin family of eicosanoids.   Prostaglandins are very short-lived little molecules that turn on smooth muscle spasms and are associated with inflammation.  But there are many more eicosanoids that act like hormones, produced and consumed locally in millionths of a second.  

The omega-3 family of eicosanoids is essentially anti-inflammatory.  The omega-6 family is all essentially inflammatory.  They have opposite actions to each other.  When we eat lots and lots of omega-6 fats (corn oil and many vegetable oils) we force the production of more inflammatory hormones.  When the amount of anti-inflammatory hormones declines (less omega-3s) and inflammatory rises (more omega-6s) our bodies are setups for diseases of inflammation.  

Indeed, you can show that our dietary imbalance makes our blood clot easier, our platelets get stickier, our white cells more reactive.  Doesn’t that sound like a heart attack waiting to happen?  Balancing may really be important. 

 Key Concept #5:  Omega fatty acids are what your brain is made of.  Our brains are incredibly complicated computers.  But the wires and the hardware come down to membranes with signaling proteins in them.  Those membranes are made up of omega fatty acids.  If you take the total weight of all the omega fatty acids in your brains, they make up 40% of your brain.  (There are actually many different omega-3s and many different omega-6s)  Of that, 40% should be omega-3 and 60% should be omega-6.  That’s the balance we find in indigenous societies who eat a diet balanced in omega fats.   

Not in America.  In America, we find our brains have shifted their content and ratio of omega fats.  Instead of 40:60, we have 20:80 because of the decline in omega-3 and the rise of omega-6.  We really are what we eat. 

 Key Concept # 6:  Omega fats turn on our genes.  There is accumulating evidence that omega-3 and omega-6 fats turn on gene expression.  If that were so, then changing the balance in our diet, which is what we have done in the last 150 years, could account for some of the diseases that have shown up in the last 150 years that we didn’t have before.  That proof does not exist yet, but recall our study that we reported a few months back in which pregnant mothers taking a gram of fish oil a day reduced the rate of asthma in their children 64%.  That could only be gene expression at work. 

 WWW.  What will work of me?  Okay, show me the evidence! I had never heard of this before.  I need proof.    Now I really want to learn how to get to balance.   Do I need to?

The column was written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI (262-784-5300)