Ratio of fatty acids important to heart health

Ratio of fatty acids important to heart health

Polyunsaturated fats are an important part of heart-healthy diets, however, most Americans aren't getting a proper ratio of the different fatty acids. Omega-3s and omega-6s are both essential to our health, but the ratio in which they are consumed is crucial. Studies show that improper intake of these fatty acids can hinder heart health instead of improving it.

Historic ratios
The typical Western diet contains a very high ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. There are a number of health risks associated with a diet deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, including an increased chance of a cardiac event.

"Scientists speculate that our prehistoric ancestors probably ate roughly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids," explained Donald Rudin, M.D., in Nutrition Digest. "Today, most people in the industrialized world eat diets with omega-6 to omega-3 ratios of 10-to-1 or even 30-to-1."

Rudin's research showed that modern packaged foods are lacking in omega-3s and high in omega-6s. Cooking oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise and nuts comprise the majority of our omega-6 intake, whereas omega-3s come predominantly from seafood. It's possible that many modern diseases are caused by this disproportion in fatty acid consumption.

Benefits of omega-3s
Research published in the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine showed that high levels of omega-6s paired with low intake of omega-3s can lead to cardiovascular disease, as well as a number of other chronic conditions. However, balancing out these levels allows an individual to reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. The study, conducted by Artemis Simopoulous, M.D., shows that consuming these polyunsaturated fats in a ratio of 4 to 1 decreases the chance of cardiovascular death by 70 percent.

Further, different ratios have proved to be beneficial in treating a number of diseases. A ratio of approximately 2 to 1 decreased inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5 to 1 showed improvement in those with asthma. Overall, a low ratio of the two fatty acids is equated with better health.

If you aren't eating weekly meals of fish, your omega-3 levels may be too low, putting you at higher risk for a heart attack. Fish oil supplements are a good way to increase your intake of these fatty acids and reap the associated benefits. However, you should also pay attention to your intake of omega-6s to ensure a proper ratio. 

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