The Omega 6s and 3s – Learn how to Balance the Omegas in Your Diet for the Right Benefits for Skin and Health

I rarely comment on current events here as I want to stay on subject but I want to send out love and prayers to the French tonight. I lived for years in Paris, did my MBA there, carried my child there, I dined, danced, cried, laughed, partied and loved in that great City of Lights. And, it was with great sadness today that I read about this heinous attack on all of our free rights and security. Laughter is a salve for all humans. If we cannot laugh at ourselves, religions, governments then we exist in a state of fear and poverty – forever crippled. Paris, your lights may have been dimmed today but tomorrow they will burn even more brightly. Al Qeada – you are only convincing the world to turn away from your religion in disgust and shun your people. To France and their dead: Chapeau off. Head bowed. Je suis Charlie.

 

 borage oil

In the quest for the perfect, nourishing skin oil I have come across a lot of options. Avocado, Apricot kernel, Evening Primrose oil etc. Frankly, they are all great and variety is the spice of life for your health and your skin. One oil that came across my radar in Europe that is not so well known in America is Borage Oil.

The more I read about Borage Oil the more I wondered if it was as powerful to consume as to apply topically. And this question led to me to a deeper examination on the limitations and benefits of Omega 6 oils and how what you are eating affects the balance of Omega 6 oil and the very important Omega 3 oils.

Topical Benefits

The essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) from borage and other oils has been shown to be one of the most effective agents for the treatment of skin disorders and for the maintenance of healthy skin. The fatty acid profile of borage is unique in that it contains 20 to 24 percent GLA. Evening primrose oil contains 8 to 10 percent GLA and black currant oil contains 15 to 17 percent.

The popularity of borage oil as an ingredient in topical formulations for the skin is growing rapidly, based on the strong research showing that it is of benefit in the treatment of various skin conditions, including dry skin, eczema, inflammation, wounds, and dermatitis.

Role of GLA in the skin
Healthy skin depends on adequate amounts of lipid, in particular certain polyunsaturated fatty acids called essential fatty acids (EFAs), for moisture, suppleness and smoothness as well as to prevent skin disorders. The most important polyunsaturated fatty acids for maintenance of healthy skin and for the alleviation of skin disorders are the essential fatty acids of the omega-6 family, namely linoleic acid (LA) and GLA. Dietary deficiency of these fatty acids results in a characteristic scaly skin disorder, increased epidermal turnover rate, weak cutaneous capillaries that rupture easily, decreased wound healing and increased transepidermal water loss (TEWL) leading to xerosis (dry skin). Dry skin is the most common skin condition and is especially common in the elderly. By the age of 80 years, the epidermis may lose as much as 50% of its thickness, which accelerates water loss. Dry skin also exacerbates many other skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis.

dry_skin copia

Many skin disorders may be due to disorders in processing essential fatty acids. In particular, the conversion of linoleic acid (LA) to GLA, via the action of a critical enzyme known as the delta-6-desaturase (D6D) enzyme, may be blocked. This leads to insufficient GLA being formed in the body. Both LA and GLA are critical for healthy skin since they are structural components of cell membranes where they ensure fluidity and stability. The proper functioning of the cells of the skin depend upon healthy membranes since they act as “gate-keepers” which maintains epidermal barrier function that keeps moisture locked in while keeping toxins out. This reduces the irritation caused by skin-irritating noxious substances. Thus, EFAs help to ensure the integrity of the epidermal layer of the skin, maintain the skin water barrier system and regulate moisture loss.

But, what about drinking borage oil? Step in health guru extraordinaire Chris Kresser:

How too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 is making us sick

fats_chart-small

Humans have problems converting omega-3 (n-3) fats from plant sources, such as flax seeds and walnuts, to the longer chain derivatives EPA and DHA. Since EPA and DHA (especially DHA) are responsible for the benefits omega-3 fats provide, and since EPA and DHA are only available in significant amounts in seafood, it follows that we should be consuming seafood on a regular basis.

But how much is enough? What does the research literature tell us about the levels of EPA and DHA needed to prevent disease and ensure proper physiological function?

The question of how much omega-3 to eat depends in large part on how much omega-6 we eat.

Over the course of human evolution there has been a dramatic change in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fats consumed in the diet. This change, perhaps more than any other dietary factor, has contributed to the epidemic of modern disease.

omega3_levels

The historical ratio of omega-6 to omega-3

Throughout 4-5 million years of hominid evolution, diets were abundant in seafood and other sources of omega-3 long chain fatty acids (EPA & DHA), but relatively low in omega-6 seed oils.

seafood

Anthropological research suggests that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a ratio of roughly 1:1. It also indicates that both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers were free of the modern inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, that are the primary causes of death and morbidity today.

hunt

At the onset of the industrial revolution (about 140 years ago), there was a marked shift in the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids in the diet. Consumption of n-6 fats increased at the expense of n-3 fats. This change was due to both the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry and the increased use of cereal grains as feed for domestic livestock (which in turn altered the fatty acid profile of meat that humans consumed).

The following chart lists the omega-6 and omega-3 content of various vegetable oils and foods:

k

Vegetable oil consumption rose dramatically between the beginning and end of the 20th century, and this had an entirely predictable effect on the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the American diet. Between 1935 and 1939, the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids was reported to be 8.4:1. From 1935 to 1985, this ratio increased to 10.3:1 (a 23% increase). Other calculations put the ratio as high as 12.4:1 in 1985. Today, estimates of the ratio range from an average of 10:1 to 20:1, with a ratio as high as 25:1 in some individuals.

In fact, Americans now get almost 20% of their calories from a single food source – soybean oil – with almost 9% of all calories from the omega-6 fat linoleic acid (LA) alone!

This reveals that our average intake of n-6 fatty acids is between 10 and 25 times higher than evolutionary norms. The consequences of this dramatic shift cannot be overestimated.

Omega-6 competes with omega-3, and vice versa

As you may recall from the last article, n-6 and n-3 fatty acids compete for the same conversion enzymes. This means that the quantity of n-6 in the diet directly affects the conversion of n-3 ALA, found in plant foods, to long-chain n-3 EPA and DHA, which protect us from disease.

Several studies have shown that the biological availability and activity of n-6 fatty acids are inversely related to the concentration of n-3 fatty acids in tissue. Studies have also shown that greater composition of EPA & DHA in membranes reduces the availability of AA for eicosanoid production.

In plain English, what this means is that the more omega-3 fat you eat, the less omega-6 will be available to the tissues to produce inflammation. Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 is neutral. A diet with a lot of omega-6 and not much omega-3 will increase inflammation. A diet of a lot of omega-3 and not much omega-6 will reduce inflammation.

Big Pharma is well aware of the effect of n-6 on inflammation. In fact, the way over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin, Celebres, etc.) work is by reducing the formation of inflammatory compounds derived from n-6 fatty acids. (The same effect could be achieved by simply limiting dietary intake of n-6, as we will discuss below, but of course the drug companies don’t want you to know that. Less profit for them.)

Conversion of the short-chain n-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plant foods like flax and walnut, to DHA is extremely poor in most people. Part of the reason for that is that diets high in n-6 LA inhibit conversion of ALA to DHA. For example, one study demonstrated that an increase of LA consumption from 15g/d to 30g/d decreases ALA to DHA conversion by 40%.

Death by vegetable oil

So what are the consequences to human health of an n-6:n-3 ratio that is up to 25 times higher than it should be?

veg oil

The short answer is that elevated n-6 intakes are associated with an increase in all inflammatory diseases – which is to say virtually all diseases. The list includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • cardiovascular disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
  • macular degeneration
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • asthma
  • cancer
  • psychiatric disorders
  • autoimmune diseases

On the other hand, several clinical studies have shown that decreasing the n-6:n-3 ratio protects against chronic, degenerative diseases. One study showed that replacing corn oil with olive oil and canola oil (FYI: Approximately 90% of the canola in the United States is GMO, so if you choose to use canola oil make sure you buy a non-GMO products. If you can’t find a verified canola oil in your local store, you can also switch high-risk canola for a low-risk alternative like olive oil (for low temperature cooking) and unrefined coconut oil (for high temperature cooking)) to reach an n-6:n-3 ratio of 4:1 led to a 70% decrease in total mortality. That is no small difference.

Joseph Hibbeln, a researcher at the National Institute of Health (NIH) who has published several papers on n-3 and n-6 intakes, didn’t mince words when he commented on the rising intake of n-6 in a recent paper:

The increases in world LA consumption over the past century may be considered a very large uncontrolled experiment that may have contributed to increased societal burdens of aggression, depression and cardiovascular mortality.

heart

And those are just the conditions we have the strongest evidence for. It’s likely that the increase in n-6 consumption has played an equally significant role in the rise of nearly every inflammatory disease. Since it is now known that inflammation is involved in nearly all diseases, including obesity and metabolic syndrome, it’s hard to overstate the negative effects of too much omega-6 fat.

 

Now, if you want to scare yourself even further by understanding exactly where Omega 6s are coming from in your diet, here is more information by Bill Kiernan, director of Global AgInvesting. For those of you that eat red meat – here is why I don’t!

Grass Fed versus Corn Fed: You Are What Your food Eats

Cows are ruminants, superbly adapted to convert grass into meat or milk. Research is proving that the health concerns long associated with eating beef result not from eating beef, but rather from eating corn-fed beef.

corn beef

During World War II farmers were producing more corn than the American population was consuming and so, started feeding the surplus corn to cattle. They soon found that cows eating corn fattened up much quicker than cows eating grass.  Seventy-five years ago it took a cow four to five years to reach a slaughter weight of 1,200 pounds.  Today it takes 13-15 months, thanks to corn, antibiotics, growth hormones and protein supplements.

But corn consumption in cattle causes many problems, because quite simply, cattle were never meant to consume corn.  Cattle on pasture have Ph neutral (Ph of 7) stomachs.  A corn diet dangerously raises the acid level in the cow’s stomach creating health conditions such as acidosis, necessitating medications and antibiotics which create prime conditions for the existence of E. Coli.

The very dangerous strain of E. Coli 0157:H7 was isolated in the 1980’s and arose because cattle were being fed grain and not their natural diet of grass. When we hear of the all-too-common re-calls of beef because of E. Coli contamination it is because of the animal’s diet.

chicken-disease-cows

Feeding cattle on corn fundamentally changes the meat they produce, greatly increasing levels of unhealthy Omega-6 fatty acids and decreasing levels of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.  This change greatly impacts the healthiness of meat for human consumption.  Scientists estimate that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed meat with an Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid ratio of close to 1:1, and not more than 1:5.

When cattle are grass fed or raised on pasture, the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is exactly where it should be for a healthy animal and therefore a healthy human eating that animal.  Since cattle cannot properly process grains, when they are corn fed, the ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 is completely opposite of what is natural.  Corn-fed cattle have 15%-50% less Omega-3 fatty acids in their meat than grass fed cattle creating meat that is much less healthy of us to consume.

cowgrass

In modern beef production a calf will be on pasture for the first few months of its life and then moved into a feedlot and fed corn to fatten it up quickly.  The animal quickly loses the Omega-3s in its system after its diet is changed.

Grass fed beef is also high in conjugated linolec acid (CLA). CLA is an anti-carcinogen, anti-diabetic and anti-antherosclerosis (heart disease). In 1987 Michael Pariza, the scientist who discovered CLA stated “few anti-carcinogens and certainly no other known fatty acids, are as effective as CLA in inhibiting carcenogenesis” CLA has also been proven in more than 30 studies to have body weight management properties. Grass fed cattle provide more than 5 times the CLA than grain fed cattle.

Now was can review and connect the dots.  In the early decades of the 20thcentury the diet of cattle was dramatically changed to corn and grains from grass, changing the levels of Omega-3s and Omega-6s, and drastically reducing the amount of CLA in beef.  This paved the way for an epidemic explosion in rates of cancer, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. This becomes obvious when comparing cause of death statistics from 1900 to those of today:

2005

Heart disease as a cause of death rose from almost 9% of deaths per 100,000 of population in 1900 to just over 26% of death per 100,000 of population.  Keep in mind; these numbers are in spite of the fact that today we have medications and surgeries to mitigate the effects of heart disease.  Cancer rose from 4% to 23% (more than five times).  Diabetes didn’t even register as one of the top 11 causes of death in 1900, and is one of the leading contributing factors for death today.

Granted, the consumption of beef is on the wane in developed nations, but as the public becomes more educated about what their food eats, and the effects it has on the health of the animal and themselves, grass fed beef is likely to become more popular.  The trend is already occurring.  In 2002 there were only 50 grass fed beef operations in the U.S. and by 2011 there were 2000.  In the future, if investing in the beef industry, it might be worth considering what your investment is eating.

 

To sum up – eat more Omega-3s than Omega-6s!  If you have a lot of processed food and meat in your diet, restrict borage oil to topical applications on your face.

 

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