Balancing Your Fats Might Be Good for Your Health

Taking fish oil isn’t just about getting your omega-3s, it’s also about creating a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats. What happens when this ratio is wrong? Science takes a look.

A lot of factors have been linked to excess fat accumulation. There are genetic factors, which we can influence, and also non-genetic factors like total fat intake, sugar intake, and laziness, which affect more of us than we’d like to admit, even amongst Breaking Muscle readers. I’m looking squarely in the mirror on that one. There are also others that might surprise you, like sleep problems and stress. For those of us living in the frozen north, this is good information to have for the upcoming summer. It’s time to start meditating, getting good sleep, and dialing in the basics for being in good shape.

We all know that excess fat is a risk factor for disease. Some of us might also know that an imbalance in your polyunsaturated fats is a risk factor for those same diseases. Polyunsaturated fats are a kind of fat considered to be healthy, and are in fact necessary for human health. But having a low omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, two types of polyunsaturated fat, has been linked to cardiovascular disease, much like obesity. However, no one has examined the link between this polyunsaturated fat balance and obesity until now.

Researchers writing for Nutrition and Metabolism recently sought to find out if there was a link. And find a link they did, specifically in one type of fat called eicosapentaenoic acid, better known as EPA. Having low EPA relative to your omega-6s was correlated to excess fat.

Now keep in mind that the people tested were people already sick with a variety of diseases, including diabetes and hypertension. Although researchers considered this, I’d still be interested to know if the discovered link holds true in an otherwise healthy population. It seems that omega-3s have many health benefits, not the least of which is staying lean. One thing researchers were able to study because of this scenario, though, was the increasing likelihood of patients having a low EPA to omega-6 ratio also having metabolic diseases and a history of heart disease.

One consideration that arises from this study is how to correct the imbalance. We might think that we should just eat more omega-3s and that’s that. In fact, the researchers suggest as much. The problem is, that might not always work. Earlier this week, I wrote about omega-3s being good for pregnancy, but in that study a higher dietary intake might not have increased the blood levels of the participants at all. In that study researchers focused on docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), another omega-3, and they found no correlations between a low DHA to omega-6 ratio and obesity. That could be because DHA isn’t reliably maintained in the blood from dietary intake, and both study designs were inadequate to determine effects on health.

For years now, we’ve known the importance of the omega-3s and having a balanced profile of polyunsaturated fats in our diet. We now know these may also be difficult to study by certain designs, but that having imbalanced polyunsaturated fats is bad news no matter how you poke and prod the results. Make sure you’re getting plenty of low-mercury fish in your diet, or otherwise supplementing with fish oils. When supplementing with fish oils, use liquid, as we have good reason to believe that caps simply do not have an adequate amount of oil.


1. Kana Inoue,, “Low serum eicosapentaenoic acid / arachidonic acid ratio in male subjects with visceral obesity,” Nutrition & Metabolism 2013, 10:25

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