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Rebalancing Act: How Our Omega Ratios Went Wrong and How to Fix Them


Increasing omega-3 intake through supplementation to restore omega balance may not be sufficient, and could be harmful in some situations.

Modern diets heavily favor omega-6 fatty acids, potentially leading to issues like cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis.  Achieving a healthier balance is essential, but how should we approach this balancing act—by eating more omega-3s or reducing omega-6s?

The path to optimal health might not be about popping more pills, but about revolutionizing your plate in a way that would make our ancient ancestors proud.

Understanding Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats that our bodies cannot produce. Key omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while important omega-6 fatty acids are linoleic acid, dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid.

Omega-6 fatty acids, found in some nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, sunflower, and safflower oil, are involved in cell growth and immune response. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, play crucial roles in brain function, inflammation regulation, and heart health.

The Modern Diet: An Omega Imbalance

Life expectancy among ancient hunter-gatherers who survived past adolescence was approximately 72 years, similar to modern populations, according to a 2018 article in World Obesity.  Modern hunter-gatherers, whose diets resemble those of their ancient counterparts, do not suffer from the prevalence of chronic diseases seen in contemporary societies, according to a 1988 article in Anthropological Commentary.

Our ancient ancestors maintained a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, estimated to be roughly 1 to 1, as reported in a 2002 article in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. In contrast, the typical Western diet today exhibits a disproportionate ratio of 20–50 to 1, according to a 2021 article in the Journal of Lipids.

This dramatic shift represents one of the most significant nutritional changes in human history and is associated with a rise in chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.

The Consequence of Omega Imbalance

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are metabolized by the same enzymes, but their lipid mediators have opposing effects—omega-6 derivatives typically promote inflammation and platelet aggregation, whereas omega-3 derivatives inhibit these processes and promote vasodilation, according to the 2021 article.

While inflammation is a necessary bodily response to injury and infection, chronic inflammation can contribute to numerous health problems. A 2002 review in Biomedical Pharmacotherapy stated the modern diet, with a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, promotes inflammation which promotes diseases—including heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases—while a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio suppresses pathogenesis of disease.

Restoring a more balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our diets may be a crucial step in addressing these health challenges and promoting overall well-being.

Why Are We Imbalanced in Omega-3 and Omega-6s?

The last century has seen technological advancements significantly increase the prevalence of omega-6 fatty acids in our food supply while decreasing omega-3s.

Dr. Chris Knobbe, clinical associate professor emeritus at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, believes the overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from highly processed industrial seed oils, is a significant driver of modern diseases. He emphasizes the historical absence of vegetable oils in diets until the modern era, noting that their introduction has paralleled the rise in chronic diseases.

“The average American is consuming at least one-fourth, and some a third, of their diet as vegetable oils. Remember, they were absolutely zero in 1865. We had no seed oils, no vegetable oils, and a trivial amount of olive oil,” Dr. Knobbe told The Epoch Times.

Dr. Knobbe, author of “The Ancestral Diet Revolution: How Vegetable Oils and Processed Foods Destroy Our Health – and How to Recover!” wrote that between 1890 and 2016, diabetes increased 4,643-fold in the United States, even though sugar consumption only increased about 2.5-fold. During roughly that same period, vegetable oils increased from roughly one gram per day to 80 grams per day—an 80-fold increase.
While modern industry has increased the prevalence of omega-6s in the food supply, the omega-3 prevalence has decreased. For example, ancient hunter-gatherers rarely or never consumed cereal grains, whereas modern humans consume roughly 23 percent of their diet from grains, which are generally high in omega-6 and low in omega-3, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Availability Data System.
Traditional sources of omega-3s, such as wild fish and animals, have also changed. Over half of seafood production now comes from farming, according to Our World in Data. Farmed fish can be fed ingredients high in omega-6s such as soy, corn, and vegetable oils, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

Modern agriculture also relies heavily on livestock raised in confined feeding operations, fed diets comprising corn and soy—both rich sources of omega-6 fatty acids, according to the 2002 article in Biomedical Pharmacotherapy.

Wild animals and birds feeding on wild plants contain roughly five times more polyunsaturated fatty acids per gram than found in domestic livestock, according to the 2002 article in Biomedical Pharmacotherapy.  Specifically, “4% of the fat of wild animals contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA),” whereas domestic beef contains “very small or undetectable” amounts of omega-3s because cattle are fed grains rich in omega-6 and poor in omega-3s.

Proposed Solutions to Return to Omega Balance

1. Increase Omega-3 Consumption

Boosting omega-3 fatty acid intake is one solution for rebalancing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Fish oil, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, is commonly recommended as a dietary intervention to prevent cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends 0.5–1.8 grams per day of omega-3s, as either fatty fish or supplements. However, studies on omega-3 fatty acids show mixed results regarding their health benefits.

A 9 percent reduced risk of cardiac death and a 17 percent reduced risk of myocardial infarction was reported in Pharmacological Research in 2020 based on a meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials. However, no effect on the incidence of major adverse cardiovascular events or death was reported in Circulation Research in 2020 based on a placebo-controlled trial involving 25,871 healthy men and women.
Some studies report potential harm, such as a 2024 review in Diagnosis noting a 50 percent increase in atrial fibrillation with daily omega-3 supplementation. Similarly, The Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial, published in 2011 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, reported that DHA might increase the risk of high-grade prostate cancer.
However, a 2011 clinical trial reported that achieving a dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2 to 1 through fish oil and dietary adjustments led to a reduction in cancer progression among prostate cancer patients.

These findings underscore the importance of achieving a better balance of these essential fats in the diet as opposed to supplementing with omega-3s alone.

Dr. Peter Osborne, a diplomate with the American Clinical Board of Nutrition, has witnessed health improvements in his patients from omega-3 supplementation combined with dietary changes. “I’ve seen a number of cases where, by supplementing and diet changes, individuals were able to reduce various health markers, including lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, improving insulin sensitivity, and enhancing blood glucose control,” he told The Epoch Times in an interview.

2. Decrease Omega-6 Consumption

Reducing omega-6 intake offers multiple benefits in achieving a healthier omega balance.

Consuming less omega-6s decreases the requirement for omega-3s, highlighting the importance of balance. A 2006 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that if people consumed less than 2 percent of their calories from omega-6s, the requirement for omega-3s would decrease to one-tenth.

Furthermore, lowering omega-6 intake enhances the body’s ability to convert plant-based omega-3s (ALA) into more beneficial long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA), a process often impaired by the high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio typical in Western diets.

This improved conversion efficiency may explain why some health benefits attributed to omega-3s, such as reduced risk of ischemic stroke, might stem from lowered omega-6 intake.

The study also suggests that the mixed results seen in omega-3 supplementation studies could be due to not accounting for the underlying high omega-6 levels in participants’ diets.

Dr. Knobbe emphasized the importance of reducing omega-6 consumption, particularly from industrial seed oils. “Thirteen years of research have led me to believe that the single most important thing we can do for our health is to remove industrial seed oils from our consumption,” he said.

He lists soybean, corn, canola, rapeseed, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, sesame, and peanut as the “worst-of-the-worst” in terms of health impact.

Dietary Strategies for Decreasing Omega-6s While Boosting Omega-3s

  • Replace vegetable oils high in omega-6s with fats containing more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratios, such as olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, tallow, lard, or butter from 100 percent grass-fed cows
  • Replace farmed fish with wild-caught
  • Replace grain-fed livestock with 100 percent grass-fed
  • Replace eggs from chickens raised in confined feeding operations with pasture-raised
  • Reduce grain consumption
  • Reduce processed food consumption

The Bottom Line

While mainstream advice often promotes increasing omega-3 consumption to restore omega balance, empirical evidence suggests that simply increasing omega-3 intake may not be sufficient, and could be harmful in some situations.

A more balanced approach, involving both increased omega-3 consumption and reduced omega-6 intake through dietary changes, aligns with historical dietary practices and contemporary research.

This strategy, which aims to restore the omega balance more in line with our ancient ancestors, could be key to addressing modern health challenges. As we deepen our understanding of nutrition’s impact on health, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio emerges as a crucial factor in potentially tackling some of our most pressing health issues.

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