Omega 6 & 3 Fatty Acids Impact on Health

Omega six fatty acids and omega three fatty acids and how they impact health: including autoimmune diseases, bone health, eye sight, heart disease, menstrual issues, skin, fatty liver, weight gain/obesity (including metabolic syndrome), inflammation (including cancer), and mental health (anxiety, depression, sleep hygiene, and cognitive decline/dementia).

Omega 6 fatty acids are found in many foods (4).  They are found in most plant seeds, except for the seeds of palm, cocoa and coconut.  Omega 6s are also found in animal products (grain fed meat and dairy cows and chickens, including eggs) and some types of fish.

They are important to the immune and endocannabinoid systems.   They are necessary for a healthy body and changes to Omega 6 consumption can cause health problems like hypertension, diabetes, and hepatorenal syndrome, which causes kidney and liver problems (19).  Omega 6s are important to human health, but only in the wright quantity.

There are two types of Omega 6 fatty acids, pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory (33). The Pro-inflammatory type is Arachidonic Acid (AA), which in moderation helps with brain development, nervous system health, and muscle growth.  It is found in dairy products, eggs and meats.  The anti-inflammatory type is Linoleic Acid (LA), which turns to Gama-linolenic Acid or GLA (33) and finally to Dihomo-y-linolenic  Acid (DGLA), making it anti-inflammatory (35).  This type of Omega 6 is found in butter (from grass fed dairy), nuts, seeds and vegetable oil (33) and in green leafy vegetables, as well as breast milk (35).

Cellular health: Omega 6s are important to health and cellular functioning.  They produce molecules (called eicosanoid metabolic products) that are important in cell signalling.  These signals are significant to many things including magnitude of pain, blood pressure, cell growth, reproduction (spontaneous miss carriage and labour), controlling blood flow in tissues, and in immunity, (starting and stopping inflammation, fever, allergy responses etc.).   These molecules are produced in the membranes of all, or most, cells in the body (4).

Joint and bone health: GLA specifically helps to lower pain, inflammation and stiffness associated with arthritis. GLA supplements slow degenerative joint diseases and helps to treat osteoporosis as it increasing the absorption of, and build up of, calcium in bones (38). In a study of older (65+) female osteoporosis sufferers, those who took EPA and GLA supplements experienced less bone loss over a three-year period.  Many subjects also had an increase in bone density (39).

Inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis: DGLA is very important in controlling inflammation as well as playing a role in cellular health and gene expression (35).   Evening primrose oil, a good source of GLA, is reported to reduces pain, swelling, and stiffness. Take 540 mg per day, up to 2.8 g per day.  Divide the doses. But, it can take up to six months to see a difference (36).

Heart health: GLA specifically lessens the formation of plaque in the walls of the arteries of the cardiovascular system.  It also helps lower cholesterol levels (38).  LA might lower risk of coronary disease (40).  720 Harvard T.H. Chan website.  Webpage: the nutrition source, Dietary linoleic acid and risk of coronary heart disease.

Omega 6s (GLA) helps reduce hypertension or high blood pressure: either alone or in conjunction with omega 3s from fish oil (EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA or docosahexaenoic acid).  In a study on males, subjects who took six grams of black currant oil per day saw a reduction in their diastolic blood pressure vs. those in the placebo condition (39).

GLA can reduce blood pressure when an individual is under stress (38).

Diabetic pain: Omega 6s, in GLA form, help manage and reduce pain when people experience diabetic neuropathy or nerve pain (34;38). GLA improves communication between nerves and the functioning of nerves. Helping to prevent and improve nerve damage (38).  This is important as nerve damage can be experienced as numbness in the extremities (hands/feet/legs).  If this is very bad it can lead to amputation.

Control blood sugar: GLA also helps to control blood sugar (34).

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder: a study of 75 youth found that after 6 months of being given a mix of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids had a meaningful reduction of symptoms, including inattention (37).

Skin health: GLA improves the skin barrier’s functioning by restoring moisture, which makes skin smoother and healthier, compensating dryness and damage.  It can also treat inflammation that results from dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis or itchy skin (38).

Muscle mass: which decreases with age, can be helped by taking the right amount of AA.  It helps skeletal muscle cells grow and develop.  In an animal study AA supplementation increased skeletal muscle size, increase in the amount of cytoplasm in a cell (myonuclear content), and an increase in the time it takes protein to turnover or bread down and be synthesized by the cell (protein accretion) of developing muscle fibers called myotubes (41). This last is important as protein accretion slows with age.

Autism spectrum disorder's social component: ARA, from Omega 6s, and DHA, from Omega 3s, play a key role in brain network development.  ARA is important in signal transduction regarding maturation of neurons (42). It has been shown, in a small human study (subjects approximately 14 years old), to be improved with large doses of AA and smaller amounts if DHA. The subjects in the active (real oil) condition showed a significant improvement in social withdrawal (according to the Aberrant Behaviour Checklist-Community) and communication (according to the Social Responsiveness Scale).  Blood tests showed an increase in markers associated with greater brain cell communication (signal transduction).  In this case plasma transferrin levels and plasma superoxide dismutase levels (42).

Breast cancer: women with breast cancer taking GLA had a better reaction to the medication tamoxifen then those only taking the drug (39). Breast pain, called cyclic mastalgia can be helped by EPO (Evening Primrose Oil) might help lesson mild breast pain (39).

Menopausal symptoms: EPO might help with night seats and hot flashes (39).

Too much AA can lead to a deficit in GLA, this is as too much AA disrupts the bodies’ ability to convert LA to GLA (33).   A balance between AA and LA is needed. The best sources of LA/GLA are borage (highest amount), evening primrose, black current seed, fungal oils and the blue green algae Spirulina (39) as well as echium, and hemp seed.  GLA supplements are usually made from evening primrose oil or EPO.  Supplements should be organic, in a light resistant package, be refrigerated, and have freshness date (39).

While there is no official recommended daily amount of LA, 11 to 12 grams for women and 14 to 17 grams for men per day should give the body enough to convert to the needed amount of LA.

Omega 6s can be found in the following foods: seeds, nuts, oils from canola, corn, safflower, soybean, and sunflower (40). A tbsp of   corn or soybean oil has approximately 7 g of LA (linoleic acid) and 11 walnuts (shelled) provide approximately 11g of LA.   These sources of Omega 6s also provide Omega 3s.

We need the following nutrients to properly convert GLA to DGLA: Magnesium, vitamins B 3 and 6, as well as C., and zinc (43).

Don’t take EPO if you have a seizure disorder or are taking epoin combined with anesthetics.  Stop taking 2 weeks before surgery if you need anesthesia.  Don’t take if pregnant.  Don’t take more than 3 000 mg GLA per day as it can increase inflammation.

Side effects of EPO (39): headache, nausea, abdominal pain, and loose stools.

Some omega 6s (found in corn oil) might contribute to prostate tumor cells.  So, don’t take if at risk of prostate cancer.

Omega three fatty acids and how they impact health: including autoimmune diseases, bone health, eye health, heart disease, menstrual problems, skin, fatty liver disease, weight gain/obesity (including metabolic syndrome), inflammation (including cancer), and mental health problems (anxiety, depression, sleep hygiene, and cognitive decline/dementia). Omega 3s are very important to health. For instance, DHA is found in the testis sperm, the retina, and the cerebral cortex (brain). Regarding brain health, DHA is a main element of the lipids that make up the brain (4).

Omega 3 oils used to be abundant in our diets, it was available in most foods we consumed.  But, in the last 150 or so years, humans (in most parts of the world) have either changed their diets, or had it changed by modern, largescale, farming practices, to such an extent that now Omega 3 fatty acids are hard to come by, and Omega 6s are overly prevalent in foods and overly consumed (4).  In fact, when both Omega 3s and Omega 6s are present, our bodies are designed to favour metabolising Omega 3s. Evolutionarily we ate as much or more 3s than 6s, creating a balanced ration of 1 to 1, 1 to 2 or even 1 to 3 favouring the Omega 3s.  Now we eat far more 6s, up to 20 times as much by some estimates.  This is a problem for many reasons.  Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory, 6’s cause inflammation and other health problems.  In short, Omega 3s enhance health and Omega 6s, in great quantities, can be detrimental (4).

Omega 3 fatty acids are metabolized from alpha linolenic acid (ALA) into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Today Omega 3s are found in fewer foods than in the past (4).  They are found (as ALA) in green leafy vegetables, in walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and in cold water fish, fish oil/fatty fish (DHA and EPA). Omega 3 fatty acids are also in the seeds of the following plants: rape, chia, flax, and perilla, soybeans. It is found in canola oil.

Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA): is a hybrid or mix of type I and II.  It is said to be the 2nd most common type of diabetes (% of all diabetics in Europe have this type).  In the United States diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death.  It also leads to limb amputations (foot and leg), blindness, and heart disease (28).  LADA has a slower autoimmune process than type I and shares some features of type II (insulin resistance and weight problems).  LADA sufferers have lower levels of: C peptide, HOMA-B and HOMA-IR. Interestingly, those with LADA report taking less fish oil and eating less fish (16).

Eating omega 3s, especially from fish, might reduce the risk of developing LADA or latent autoimmune diabetes in adults. This is as fatty fish, and its’ oil, have n-3 PUFA or polyunsaturated long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.  These include EPA or eicosapentaenoic and DHA or docosahexaenoic acids.  They effect and modulate the immune system, lower inflammation, and help regulate or control how genes are expressed.  These types of fats can move into cells easily, change the cells’ functioning and help treat autoimmune disease.  As Omega 3s and Omega 6s compete fore the same enzymes, if Omega 3s are metabolised, Omega 6s (which, if overly abundant, cause inflammation) won’t be. This effect was not found for type II diabetes where fish oil supplements may actually increase the risk of type II diabetes (16).

Diabetes: taking enough Omega 3s, especially DHA, is associated with a reduction in type II diabetes (45).

Vitamin D supplementation is associated with reduced risk of both LADA and type II diabetes.  Many immune cell types (B and T cells for instance) have vitamin D receptors.  Vitamin D in an active form, as the metabolite 1.25(OH)2D, has the ability to control immune cells’ inner workings and production/growth. In both type II and LADA diabetes vitamin D may affect the way B cells in the pancreas work.  This is done by 1,25(OH)2D, found in vitamin D, binding to vitamin D receptors in B cells (16).  Poor B cell functioning is also associated with insulin resistance, both types of B cell malfunctioning predict the onset of Type II diabetes years before its final onset (27).

Further, vitamin D increases insulin action by stimulating insulin receptors expression causing an improvement in glucose transportation.  In type I diabetes vitamin D may help to treat the condition by modifying T cell diversity.  T cells are white blood cells that protect against illnesses.  In Type I Diabetes T cells are signaled to destroy cells in the areas of the pancreas (Islets) that produce insulin (28).  In Type II diabetes T cells are implicit in the pathogenesis of the disease.  In this case T cell are necessary for metabolic inflammation and insulin resistance to develop (29).

Eye health:  Omega 3 acid DHA is prevalent within the retina’s outer membrane. DHA is necessary to keep the retina and overall eye, healthy. DHA help protect the retina from over exposure to light, oxidative stress (damage at the cellular level due to free radicals, or single, unpaired, electrons looking for a mate within cells, which in turn damages cells, including DNA and proteins), inflammation, ischemia or lack of proper blood flow to the eye, metabolic processes associated with increase risk of damage, and general age-related problems (17).

Heart Disease: DHA reduces bad fats (triglycerides) in the blood, as well as lessoning clotting (thrombosis), reducing cardiac arrhythmia and lowering death rates (up to 50%) due to heart attach (myocardial infarction). This last is by taking 200 mg per day of DHA (from fish oil/fish) has been shown to reduce heart attach (19).

Skin: studies have shown that eating more Omega 3 fatty acids, especially from fish, lowers incidence and severity of acne.  This is because Omega 3s lower inflammation, which is a risk for acne development.  It does this in part by hindering the (inflammation causing) chemicals PGE2 and LTB4 (15). These are associated with acne.  Omega 3s also decrease levels of something called insulin like growth factor (IGF) and preventing hyperkeratinisation of sebaceous follicles (14).

Conversely, Omega 6 fatty acids, which are known to increase inflammation throughout the body, is considered to be a factor in the development of inflammatory acne.  Keep in mind that the modern western diet has shaped the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids to at least 10:1 (14).

Take 2,000 mg (2 gm) of EPA omega 3s a day.  Get at least 1,000 mg of EPA (superior anti-inflammatory Omega 3).  You can eat oily fish like sardines, anchovies, tuna and salmon or maceral (wild).  Also eat flax seed and oil, walnuts and oil, and canola oil.

Omega 3s, especially DHA, increase glutathione and lowers oxidative stress, while increasing antioxidant capacity (26).  This is good as oxidative stress may damage skin.

Zinc:  helps the body metabolise omega 3s.  it moves vitamin A from the liver into the skin.  It is also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in nature.  Zinc can assist in breaking down a nerve chemical that causes stress related sebum production, called substance P.  Take 40 mg a day (can do this over a variety of products).

Vitamin A: is in some sources of Omega fatty acids, like cod liver oil.  this is needed to lower risk of acne and inflammation (14). It also helps dead skin cells slough off, which stops pores clogging.  It also helps form red blood cells, which bring oxygen to skin, keeping it healthy. Get as much as 10 000 iu’s per day (talk with medical professional before starting this).

Weight: can be impacted by Omega fatty acids.  In better human studies a connection was made between body composition, weight management, lowered hunger, and greater feelings of satiety, or fullness, and eating more Omega 3 fatty acids.  So, Omega 3 fatty acids could act as a natural way to regulate appetite.  In fact, supplementing with Omega 3s has proven to lower body weight in lean, overweight, and obese individuals as well as lessening obesity in obese individuals (4).

This last may be confusing, but there is a scale for obesity (6): the BMI or body mass index is a calculation of high, age, sex and weight.  BMI is correlated with more accurate measures of body fat.  So, it gives an idea of how an individual’s weight impacts their health.  A BMI lower than 18.5 is underweight; 18.5 to 24.9 is normal weight; 25 to 29.5 is overweight; 30 or more is obese, with obese 1 being 30 to 34.9, obese 2 being 35 to 39.9 and obese 3 being 40 or higher. The last is considered sever or extreme. Keep in mind that BMI is not completely accurate as muscle weights more than fat.

Regarding the absorption of Omega 3s and 6s, if the body is overwhelmed with Omega 6s then it will be less able to metabolize omega 3s. This is as the human body uses the same two enzymes to break down both types of Omega oils.  These are fatty acid de-saturases or FADS2 and FADS1.  Trans fats are also problematic in this way, blocking Omega 3s.  Age negatively impacts the body’s ability to produce FADS, making it harder to synthesize these important nutrients from food (4).

Making things more complex is the fact that, dependent on genetics, a person’s body responds in one of two ways to Omega 6s and Omega 3s.  Up to 80% of people of African descent, and 45% of people of European descent, have this problem.  These groups are at risk as they are genetically prone to maximizing the synthesis of AA from LA and EPA from ALA.  While ideally this would enhance health by making it easier for the body to produce enough of the nutrients it needs, in a world awash in Omega 6s it negatively impacts health. Excessive Omega 6s are correlated with a heightened risk of cancer, coronary heart disease or CHD, leptin resistance and metabolic syndrome, as well as diabetes, obesity, and other heath problems (4).

Omega 6s produce molecules (called eicosanoid metabolic products) are important in cell signalling.  They are significant to many things including magnitude of pain, blood pressure, cell growth, reproduction (spontaneous miss carriage and labour), controlling blood flow in tissues and in immunity, (starting and stopping inflammation, fever, allergy responses etc.).   These molecules are produced in the membranes of all, or most, cells in the body (4).  Too many 6s can lead to cardiovascular disease, immune problems and illness, heightened pain, and inflammatory problems. Keep in mind that inflammation causes arthritis, heart disease and depression, as well as being associated with diabetes and thyroid problems.

Omega 6s and 3s balance one another out.  Omega 6 fatty acids are active even in small amounts, which may be good for health.  In larger quantities they can become problematic causing inflammation, blood clotting in blood vessels, abdominal cramping, and the following cardio vascular related problems: blood viscosity or thickness, cell proliferation or growth (which may contribute to cancer), blood vessels suddenly constriction which reduces blood flow rate (called vasospasm), constriction of blood vessels which increased blood pressure (called vasoconstriction), and thickening of arterial walls (called atheroma’s), and blood clots (called thrombus) in some.

Omega fatty acids and the endocannabinoid system: Supplementation of animals with fish oil high in DHA for 4 weeks resulted in an increase in DHA levels in the brain, decrease (significant) in 2-AG in the brain, and AA in the brain.  This reversed the dysregulation of the cannabinoid system, improved sensitivity to insulin and a lowering of central body fat (4).

Regarding weight, the endocannabinoid system helps control appetite and metabolism or how fast a body burns energy.  If this system becomes hyperactive weight gain and obesity may result.  In animal models some endocannabinoids reinforced sweet tastes, and a desire for more sweet food.  Some weight loss experiments have shown promise by targeting the endocannabinoid system.  Dysregulation of the cannabinoid system leads to increased body fat and insulin sensitivity.  Animal studies have proven that this can be reversed with the addition of Omega 3s and lowering of Omega 6s (4).

Further, the consumption of too many Omega 6s and not enough Omega 3s can lead to a type of endocannabinoid signalling that results in other health problems besides weight gain.  These are:  inflammation, energy homeostasis and negative or distressing emotionality or mood (4).

Inflammation/allergies: A balance between Omega three and Omega 6 fatty acids means less inflammation as a response to several biological reactions to potential allergens and inflammation antagonists.  These are:  gene expression (which genes are activated as a response to the environment), lipids that have hormone like effects (called prostaglandin), and allergic response activating lipids (called leukotriene metabolism) that increase asthma, rhinitis and other allergies, and other allergic and other inflammation responses to infections, called interleukin-1 production (4).

Arthritis (especially rheumatoid) related inflammation and pain is reduced by Omega 3s, while it is increased by Omega 6s (19).

Cancer: Omega 3s are associated with reduced the growth, or proliferation, of cancer cells and tumours (19). Conversely, growth/proliferation of cancer cells and tumours is increased by Omega 6s.

Weight management: Regarding human studies, in a study of normal weight women, the subjects’ intake and metabolism of Omega 3s and Omega 6s (tested with a blood test) showed that the Omega 3 fatty acid EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, was associated with a reduced likelihood of a long-term gain in weight, while Omega 6s (DGLA or dihomo y linolenic acid, LA, and GLA or Gamma linolenic acid) were associated with an increased likelihood of long-term weight gain.

An overabundance of Omega 6s, as well as a lack of Omega 3s, are contributors to obesity (4).  The last is especially important given the increase in overwaited and obese individuals.  Omega 6 fatty acids can stop the process by which the body burns stored fat (white oedipal fat).

Metabolic syndrome: is a condition in which an individual experiences high blood pressure, high blood sugars, high triglycerides (fats), and low levels of HDL or good cholesterol and has a waist measurement (circumference) of more than 40 inches or 102 cm for men and 35 inches or 88 cm for women.  Metabolic syndrome can lead to many health problems (diabetes, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease) and may contribute to dementia.  One in five Canadian adults may suffer from this syndrome (10).  Metabolic syndrome is associated with insulin resistance in the body and the brain.

A diet low in Omega 3 fatty acids and a diet high in sugar both cause problems regarding brain health, learning, memory and emotionality, when mixed together the problems are amplified.

Too much sugar in the diet leads to insulin resistance.  Insulin can cross the blood brain barrier and signal neurons, so too much can overwhelm the neurons, which stop functioning properly.  This results in a decrease in signaling between insulin receptors in the brain.  As insulin receptors in the hippocampal area are associated with making new memories, damage can be problematic. Regarding fructose (type of sugar) specially, it alone may damage the brain. Here neuronal cells in the brain have been proven to directly metabolize (use) fructose, and too much fructose speeds up or accelerates the use of fructose sensitive glucose transporters in the hippocampus, where they regulate synaptic activity and neurotransmitter release, so disrupting this process can potentially causing memory problems; furthering problems, a high fructose diet causes high triglycerides (blood fats) which can also cause memory problems.  The last is probably due to triglycerides being able to influence the brain regarding insulin resistance (9).

Regarding Omega 3 fatty acids, a diet deficient in DHA can lead to the brain being vulnerable to insulin resistance and cognitive problems.  Omega 3 fatty acids are necessary to brain health and a lack of them has shown to cause problems at the cellular level (lower phosphorylation) in the insulin receptor and its signalling molecules. Too few Omega 3s leads to an imbalance that favours Omega 6s. Too much Omega 6 fatty acid leads to unhealthy changes in the brain’s plasma membrane.

Changes to the membrane fluidity leads to a lessoning of it and a disruption of membrane insulin receptor signalling.  This then causes problems with insulin receptor substrate 1 a signaling adapter protein IRS 1 (mediates the control of various cellular processes by insulin) and Akt (protein that plays a key role in multiple cellular processes like glucose metabolism, apoptosis, cell proliferation, transcription and cell migration), and in the end damage to memory and cognition.  This is needed for neurons to stay healthy by helping with synaptic plasticity (growth and repair).

Each problem in and of itself causes cognitive or thought disruptions. But, when both are present, problems are magnified regarding insulin resistance in the brain and higher triglyceride (bad fat) levels (9).

A high fructose diet combined with a DHA/Omega 3 deficiency leads to hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin in the blood relative to the level of glucose), hypertension (high blood pressure) and Hypertriglyceridemia (high blood levels of triglycerides), and higher than normal triglyceride (blood fat) levels (9).

This all effect brain health by lessoning healthy neural functioning and causing a lowering of the brain’s ability to grow, called synaptic plasticity.  These effects can cause mental health issues, and problems with learning and memory (44).

Interestingly, Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown in animal models to protect the brain from the potential damage of a diet high in sugars (especially fructose) and insulin resistance.  While Omega 3 deficiency leads to higher triglyceride levels, and greater elevation of insulin and glucose by fructose. A diet rich n Omega 3s reversed this trend, lowering insulin and triglycerides when fructose was present, leading to greater insulin sensitivity.  Omega 3s maintain, or help to regain, metabolic homeostasis or balance within the body (9).

Metabolic syndrome and liver disease:  In an animal study subjects eating a diet high in fat and high in Omega 3s, but low in Omega 6s, is associated with increased energy, better metabolism of glucose, or blood sugar, and lipids, or fat in the blood.  This diet also lowered inflammation, increased insulin signaling in the liver, lowered cholesterol and reduced the likelihood of developing liver disease. Interestingly, the diet eaten by the animal subjects in this study wasn’t lower in the number of calories eaten (4).

Apatite and the endocannabinoid system: endocannabinoids are lipids made from Omega 6 fatty acid AA.  Too much AA results in over production of endocannabinoid signals.  Endocannabinoids activate endogenous cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in the adipose (fat) tissues, the brain, the gastrointestinal tract, and the liver.  If CB1 receptors are activated then the person or animal experiences a surge in appetite, resulting in more food than normal being consumed.  The concentration or balance of endocannabinoids is regulated by the balance of Omega 6s to Omega 3s in the diet, as well as the activity of enzymes (biosynthetic and catabolic) that are integral to something called the endocannabinoid pathway working properly (4).

Adipose tissue: White fat can have positive health effects as it is a way for the body to store energy and secrete hormones.  But, too much white fat is associated with both obesity and metabolic disorders.  It was recently found that brown fat cells are in white fat. These brown fat cells, when turned on, can use up or burn white fat by turning it into energy (thermogenesis) used for heating and cooling the body (5).

In human studies having higher amounts of Omega 6s in blood taken from ambilocal cords was associated with increased fat or adipose tissue and higher than normal BMI or body mass index scores in the subjects, children, at three years of age (4).

Omega fatty acids are so important to health that in both animal and human studies they have proven to protect against obesity and might lesson continued weight gain in those who are already considered obese (4).  For instance, when obese animals were fed a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids they showed a decrease in a type of adipose fat called visceral fat.  This type of fat is usually stored around the internal organs in the abdomen, including the intestines, liver, and pancreas.   In the animals tested there was a reduction in fat in the following areas specifically:   the white fat behind the testis, called epididymal fat; fat stored behind the abdomen cavity, called retroperitoneal fat; and fat in the peritoneum, which is the membrane lining of the abdomen and organs there of.

Regarding obesity, besides directly impacting fat burning, the Omega 3/6 ratio impacts hunger, food choices and weight in another way.  Omega fatty acids can affect a system in the body called the endocannabinoid system. Omega 6 have a strong, potentially negative impact on this system.  In an animal study increasing the dietary LA (an Omega 6) from 1% to 8% resulted in an increased production of endocannabinoids in the liver. This in turn lead to a greater risk of obesity regardless of a low-fat diet.

Supplementing with 6 grams of fish oil (for 3 weeks) resulted in a 22% increase in fat burning without exercise, called basal lipid oxidation.  It is suggested that taking Omega 3 supplements can increase a person’s metabolic rate or metabolism long term (4).

Thyroid health: the thyroid gland to a great extent controls your metabolic rate or the speed at which your body burns calories.  The thyroid also impacts energy levels and body temperature, immunity and sex drive.

The liver plays a pivotal role in thyroid health.  The thyroid secretes two hormones, an inactive one called T4 or thyroxine and, in smaller amounts an active one T3, or triiodothyronine.  T4 must be converted to T3 before it can be used.  The liver does most (60%) of the conversion, with some help from muscles and kidneys (3).  Hypothyroidism and subclinical hypothyroidism are a worry when women transition into menopause.  Omega 3 fatty acids may be a good natural treatment for thyroid problems.  This is as in an animal study a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids has been shown to increase production of thyroid hormones in the liver (2).  The liver has a thyroid hormone receptor protein called TRB1, this was higher in the test subjects, who also had lower amounts of fat or lipids in the blood (2). The subjects who ate the Omega 3 diet also had more of an enzyme associate with increased thermogenesis or fat burning, as this enzyme is usually stimulated by T3 via TRB1 the researchers suggest that the thyroid hormone action is being enhanced by the Omega 3s. The enzyme is called hepatic mitochondrial glycerophospate dehydrogenase.

Furthermore, these animal subjects showed less weight gain, lower amounts of white Adipose fat accumulation around the abdomen, lower levels of cholesterol, and lower levels of triglycerides or bad fats.

Brain health: DHA, a type of Omega 3 found in fish oil, is needed for normal brain functioning to be maintained such an extent that it impacts learning new things. It has a protective role regarding disease.  For instance, in an Australian study of Multiple sclerosis, people at risk of being diagnosed with MS and who were put on a high Omega 3s (fish based, DHA specifically) were less likely to be diagnosed with MS related demyelination.  This is when the fat coating the brain and spinal cord, called the myelin sheath, starts to disintegrate.  The myelin helps neurones communicate by facilitating electrical impulses from one neuron to another (18).

A lack of DHA can increase the likelihood of learning deficiencies.  Low levels of Omega 3s in animal diets are associated with decreased amounts of DHA in brain phospholipids, and higher amounts of 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), an endocannabinoid made from Omega 6 based Arachidonic acid (AA) which is proinflammatory.  Supplementing the diets of animals deficient in Omega 3s for four weeks increased brain DHAs while lowering   2-AG and AA in the brain.  As we age our brain begins to shrink (neuronal pruning).  Omega 3s help may be prophylactic as a lack of them is associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s dementia (19).

Keep in mind that while the brain will choose Omega 3s over other types of fats, the brain uses it up quickly, so these fats need to be replenished (19).

Dementia: there is a link between low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids and age-related break down, or slow down, of signals between neurons in the glutamatergic system in the area of the brain called the hippocampus. Omega 3s are very important for the glutamatergic system to develop properly and to function optimally in adults (7). Further, proinflammatory proteins (remember too much Omega 6 can cause this) is involved in cell signalling disrupt the central nervous system in a manner associated with depression.  They change the way serotonin is used and lower the brains ability to grow or regenerate, called synaptic plasticity and can contribute to brain shrinkage or neurodegeneration (7).

DHA, from omega 3s, is necessary to neuronal survival, meaning it keeps neurons in the brain from dying.  It is important to neurogenesis, or brain cells developing and growing (23).

Omega 3 fatty acid DHA is a component of the protein brain derived neurotropic factor or BDNF (23). This substance helps keep both the brain and peripheral nervous system healthy.  It prevents existing brain cells from dying, it supports general cognitive functioning, and it induces new synapses and neurons to grow (called neurogenesis). BDNF depletion is connected to accelerated aging, Alzheimer’s dementia, depression, mild cognitive impairment, neurotransmitter dysfunction, obesity and schizophrenia (31; 32).

DHA provides the building blocks for an endocannabinoid called synaptamide, which is necessary for cells to grow, as well as to differentiate within the brain during its development (prenatally).  DHA also provides building blocks for Neuroprotein D1 (NPD1), which protects neurons from death by triggering the synthesis of proteins that are anti-apoptotic (suicidal).

Anxiety and Depression: Omega 3s lower inflammation, improve the brain’s ability to use glucose, help neurons to function better, helps make a neurochemical needed to make new dendrites and neurons grow, called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), and lower the production of stress hormone cortisol. They also enhance the endocannabinoid system, which if unbalanced regarding the amount of Omega 6s to Omega 3 being may lead to depression and mental illness.

DHA also helps in making the protein brain derived neurotropic factor or BDNF (23). This helps keep both the brain and peripheral nervous system healthy.  It prevents existing brain cells from dying, it supports general cognitive functioning, induces new synapses and neurons to grow (called neurogenesis). BDNF depletion is connected to accelerated aging, Alzheimer’s dementia, depression, mild cognitive impairment, neurotransmitter dysfunction, obesity and schizophrenia (31;32).

All of these factors, if out of balance, are associated with depression.  These factors may be why human studies have shown that Omega 3s have antidepressant like effects (11).  Omega 3s may affect depression in a short period of time, as low as three weeks. A small study, involving 20 people, with 10 taking Omega 3 and 10 taking a sugar pill, showed that after 21 days of supplementation 67% of the active treatment group were no longer depressed according to the Beck Depression Inventory.  This was in comparison to 20% of the placebo, or sugar pill, group (12).  Further, people who take Omega 3 fatty acids, and lower their intake of Omega 6 fatty acids, report lower levels of anxiety.

Depression is related to a decrease in the brain’s ability to properly metabolise glucose or sugar, here low sugar consumption has been found in many areas of the brain associated with depression. People who are depressed tend to have an increased activity of the glutamatergic system and a reduction in activity in this system has an antidepressant like affect (7).

The right ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids, from fish oil, coupled with a lowering of Omega 6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory and hinder Omega 3 metabolism, has been shown to work as a treatment for depression (primary).  Here it is advised that 60% of the fish oil be EPA and 40% DHA, with a dose of 200 to 2,200 mg per day (7). Proinflammatory proteins involved in cell signalling disrupt the central nervous system in a manner associated with depression.  They change the way serotonin is used and lower the brains ability to grow or regenerate, called synaptic plasticity and can contribute to brain shrinkage or neurodegeneration (7).

A lack of Omega 3 fatty acids is connected to an increase in production of the stress hormone cortisol (made from CRH or corticotropin release hormone) and produced in (a stress galvanizing over active) HPA axis or Hypothalamus, pituitary adrenal axis.  Omega 3s lesson the production of cortisol by modulating or changing the amount of cortisol being moved through the blood-brain barrier.  This helps to calm down (or normalize) the HPA axis (7).

Fish oil, and Omega 3 fatty acids specifically, may help prevent and treat depression in part because they help to facilitate the “metabolism, release, uptake, and receptor function” of serotonin and dopamine cells.  They also help to control or regulate the way neurons transmit signals in areas of the brain that are often dysfunctional in depressed people.  (Omega 3 fatty acids improve “G protein mediated signal transduction, membrane bound enzymes, and protein kinase C system” (7, pg. 12).  In an animal study, when the subjects were feed Omega 3s (which they had previously been deprived of) resulted in a 40% Growth in dopamine levels in the frontal cortex (a brain region negatively affected by depression) and an improvement in dopamine D2 receptor binding (7). In human studies, it was found that lower levels of Omega 3’s could act as a predictor of suicidal behaviour (over 2 years) and a study of pregnant women’s blood found that high plasma, or blood, levels of Omega 3s overall, coupled with a ratio of low 6s/3s were associated with low rates of depression (7). People who are vulnerable to depression may want to take no less than 650 mg per day of fish oil (7).

Pain management:  we can not overlook the role of pain in depression.  Those who suffer from neuropathic pain or inflammation are up to five times more likely to experience anxiety (disorders) and depression.  When an individual suffers from both depression and pain, 80% of the time they do not react positively to drug (pharmacological) therapy designed to individually address these problems.  But, they do react to cannabinoids, components within cannabis, (21). Both synthetic drugs and cannabis-based drugs with the psychotropic components (giving the feeling of euphoria etc.) removed have been shown to positively effect both depression and pain (21). Another option may be omega fatty acids. Both Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids are precursors to endocannabinoids.  This means that they are converted in the body to cannabinoids (22;23).  There is an enzymatic pathway which converts Omega 3 based endocannabinoids into a powerful molecule which fights inflammation (associated with both pain and depression) by binding to the same receptors in the immune system that the part o marijuana, called THC, also binds too (22).  Omega 6s in concordance with Omega 3s also has a positive effect on pain.

This is as the body makes arachidonic acid from Omega 6s (21;22).  this is then turned into two cannabis-like substances called endocannabinoids (N arachdonoylethanolamine, and 2 aachidonoylglycerol or 2-AG).   Even though these substances are made from a derivative of Omega 6 fatty acids called arachidonic acid (22) a proper balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids is needed to enhances the body’s ability to maximize arachidonic acid (23).

Stress: The right balance of Omega 3s to 6s helps ameliorate the affects of prolonged stress on the nervous system.  (7). A lack of Omega 3 fatty acids is connected to an increase in production of the stress hormone cortisol (made from CRH or corticotropin release hormone) and produced in (a stress galvanizing over active) HPA axis or Hypothalamus, pituitary adrenal axis.  Omega 3s lesson the production of cortisol by modulating or changing the amount of cortisol being moved through the blood-brain barrier.  This helps to calm down (or normalize) the HPA axis (7).

Premenstrual syndrome: in a small human study after 45 days of taking Omega 3’s the test group reported much lower rates of anxiety, depression severity, lack of ability to concentrate, and bloating than the control group.  Also, the test group had fewer days of reported bloating and depression.  After 3 months (90days) the average reported severity of the following decreased markedly: anxiety, bloating, depression, lack of concentration, and nervousness, and the duration of the following had lowered: anxiety, bloating, breast tenderness, depression, headache, lack of concentration, nervousness (8).

Omega 3s are needed to make the hormone DHEA, which is then converted to sex hormones in both male and female bodies. A lack of DHEA is associated with low libido, atrophy of sex organs in menopausal women, depression, cognitive problems and low self esteem.

Foods and supplements:  Foods to eat to improve an Omega 6/3 balance (4):

Wild fish, ideally fatty fish like salmon, tuna or mackerel (from lakes, oceans, and rivers) eaten two or more times a week, eggs from free range chickens or fed with omega 3 rich foods like pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, fishmeal and walnuts (and its oil). Also, the following oils: chia, flax, perilla, and rapeseed.  Also, those high in monounsaturated oils: hazel, high monounsaturated sunflower, macadamia nut, olive.

Foods to remove from the diet: vegetable oils like corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, and soybean.

Take the supplement lecithin with fish oil to increase the amount of active Omega 3s and decrease Omega 6s in the body (1).  It is advised that 60% of the fish oil be EPA and 40% DHA, with a dose of 200 to 2,200 mg per day (7).


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The information on this site is for educational and informational purposes only.  It is not to take the place of medical advice or treatment.   Seek out a qualified health care provider if you have questions or need help.  Dr. Grant is not responsible for any possible health consequences of anyone who follows or reads the information in this content.  Everyone, but especially those taking medication (over the counter or prescription) should talk with a physician before undertaking any changes to their lifestyle or diet (including taking supplements).