Many of the diseases of modern diets are caused by an imbalance in omega 3 vs omega 6 fatty acids. These are essential nutrients that “compete” with each other in the body, and they need to be balanced as closely to a 1 to 1 ratio as possible to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Scientific evidence has been quite strong in support of the link between these diseases and omega 3. Other benefits of fish oil may also include lowered cholesterol, anti-depression, and general feeling of well being.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential nutrients found in seafood and some vegetables, and most people in the Western world do not get enough of it. Omega 6 fatty acids dominate in the modern diet, which are also found in many vegetables that are common. Omega 6 causes inflammation, which in turn can lead to cell damage and cardiovascular illness. Omega 3s also cause inflammation, but less so than omega 6, and the two acids compete in the body, so if you get more omega 3 you will lower the inflammation process and risk of cardiovascular disease.
Although it is found in some vegetables like flax seed, the best form of omega 3 is in seafood and fish oil supplements. Fish oil contains both DHA and EPA forms of omega 3, which can directly be used by the body, whereas flax seed oil contains the ALA form of omega 3, which must first be transformed by the body to be used. Hence, it’s less efficient. As a result, fish oil is more highly recommended over flax seed oil for getting your omega 3.
There is no specific recommended ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. The theory is that humans evolved with a ratio of 1 to 1, and studies have have shown beneficial effects in ratios of 5 to 1 and lower. This involves eating about 3 servings of fatty fish (salmon and tuna) per week. Eating a lot of fish can be difficult for some people. It can also cause a build up of mercury over time and should be avoided by pregnant women and children. For this reason it may be easier to take a fish oil supplement daily. Look for a high quality one, as lower quality ones may contain trace amounts of the chemical PCB, which can accumulate and may cause cancer. Also, look for one with high levels of DHA and EPA, not just a large amount of fish oil which can contain varying levels.