A dietary imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats can lead to an increase of inflammatory substances in the body, which in turn contribute to the development of many modern diseases. The cohesive relationship between good health and providing the body with an optimal amount of essential fatty acids at the cellular level was already clear to Dr. Johanna Budwig at the beginning of the 1950s. "The deficiency in these highly unsaturated fatty acids leads to the paralysis of many vital functions," was a statement frequently made by the scientist.
Daily dose of Omega-3
Depending on age and level of physical activity, a person should consume between 0.5 and 1.5 grams of omega-3 every day. This amount is recommended by the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), the Austrian Society for Nutrition, (ÖGE) and the Swiss Society for Nutrition (SGE) in a common directive (DACH recommendation). However, those who wish to meet these requirements purely through vegetable omega-3 must multiply these values. Most of the amounts recommended are calculated using high-potency omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. Approximately only ten percent of the highly potent nutrients can be attained from the breakdown of ALA in the body, therefore the recommended amount must be multiplied tenfold in order to meet the recommended daily dose.
If, for example, flax seed oil is consumed as the sole source of omega-3, then a normal, healthy adult only needs to take in approximately 15 ml (one tablespoon) to reach the daily recommended amount. For pregnant women or people with special health needs, 30 ml (two tablespoons) are sufficient. It is important to know that an exact dosage is not necessary, since any excess flax seed oil is taken up by lipid metabolic processes and where it is used to generate energy.
To date, there have been no indications that fat intake which is high in omega-3 content could be harmful nor are there any known side effects.
However, a general rule states: Total fat consumption should not exceed 30 percent of the daily energy demand.
The breakdown of omega-3 fatty acids
The bodies of humans and animals are able to convert omega-3 fatty acids into other forms. ALA must be absorbed from food and can then be converted via enzymes to EPA and subsequently to DHA. The latter reaction is reversible. In this case metabolic processes establish a healthy equilibrium. Approximately ten percent of ALA absorbed by the human body is enzymatically synthesized first to EPA and then to DHA. During this process, two additional carbon atoms are incorporated into each molecule, extending the carbon chain and introducing several double bonds (dehydration).
The key ratio of fatty acids
For many generations, people have been getting their omega-3 fatty acids from fish, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Our health literally depends on the regular consumption of the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA). Our bodies require these fatty acids in order to synthesize their cell membranes as well as for a variety of metabolic functions
In general, our diets today contain significantly more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. On average, a realistic ratio is 20:1. Going by nature’s guidelines, however, the proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be between 2:1 and 5:1. In breast milk, it is as high as 2: 1 to 1: 1. Even prior to the age of large-scale livestock farming and industrial food production- when the uptake of fatty acids was only possible through the consumption of oils, specific vegetables, or fish- the quotient was around 2:1. It is important that omega-6 fatty acids are consumed in the proper amount in relation to omega-3 fatty acids for a number of reasons:
1. Competition for the enzymes
From the omega-3 family, our bodies need ALA as well as EPA and DHA. Of these three members, only ALA must be received through food. Once it has been absorbed, it can be used to synthesize the other two types of fatty acids enzymatically. The problem, however, is that the same enzymes which are responsible for this synthetic process also metabolize omega-6 fatty acids. One could say that the two forms compete for the enzymes. The smaller the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, the greater the chance becomes that the invaluable cell membrane components EPA and DHA will be synthesized.
2. Balanced consequences
Put simply, omega-6 fatty acids are converted into pro-inflammatory substances, whereas products resulting from omega-3 fatty acid synthesis tend to be anti-inflammatory. If both types fatty acids are ingested in the proper proportion to one another, then their respective synthetic products should also be present in well-balanced proportion- an important prerequisite for optimal cellular health. This chemical equilibrium also plays are role in: coronary heart disease, arteriosclerosis, blood clotting, blood pressure development and diabetes, as well as in rheumatic, inflammatory, and allergic reactions.
The Key to good health
Both an excess in omega-6 fatty acid consumption as well as an insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to disproportionate immune responses such as chronic inflammatory reactions. Both cases result from an increase in the production of hormone-like substances, such as prostaglandins, prostacyclin, thromboxane, and leukotrienes. Because these substrates are derived from C20 fatty acids, they are referred to as eicosanoids (Greek: eicosi = "twenty"). Even at very low concentrations, these mediators affect inflammation, fever, pain, clotting factors, blood pressure, blood lipids, vascular smooth muscle, the course of pregnancy, and immune responses. The biological effect of eicosanoids is very complex and still not fully understood. It is known, however, that they are instrumental in the formation of inflammable phenomena.
Prostaglandins are short-lived, locally acting growth hormones which are formed in almost all types of tissue. They have very versatile and sometimes even opposite effects. They affect blood pressure, blood clotting, and smooth muscle tissue. Some prostaglandins may exhibit effects which are therapeutically undesirable, such as prostaglandin PGE2, which is overexpressed in damaged tissue, where it causes, among other things, inflammatory responses and fever. By blocking the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX), which is necessary for the production of prostaglandins, the formation of the prostaglandins can be inhibited. Acetyl-salicylic acid is used for this purpose. Prostacyclins are vasodilators which help prevent the aggregation of platelets and, thereby, thrombus formation.
Thromboxanes are the antagonists of prostacyclins. They promote blood clotting and support wound healing. In high concentrations, thromboxanes contribute to an increased risk of atherosclerosis, hypertension, and thrombosis. Leukotrienes act as mediators of inflammatory and allergic reactions for example by dilating blood vessels, increasing vascular permeability, and/or causing fever.
Dieticians can help
Because the eicosanoids, which are derived from arachidonic acid, have a particularly decisive influence on (or, in some cases, can trigger) inflammatory processes, changing to a vegetarian diet and thereby reducing the intake of arachidonic acid could pave the way to an optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio. Adam et al. (2003) demonstrated that a reduction of arachidonic acid dietary intake in combination with nutritional supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive influence on rheumatoid arthritis and immune response. The determination of the fatty acid status can support a customized nutritional advice generally below supplemented by omega-3 fatty acid effectively. Generally, a healthy balance in fatty acids can be established through individual nutritional consultation, typically supplemented effectively by omega-3 fatty acids.
Only 1-2 tablespoons daily!
For Dr. Budwig, there was only one significant omega-3 supplement: very carefully produced flax seed oil in its natural state, which she herself developed a method for manufacturing. "flax seed oil has at all times worked miracles."
Depending on age and level of physical activity - between 0.5 and 1.5 grams of omega-3 should be ingested daily. This amounts to about 15 ml of flax seed oil (a large tablespoon) for adults and 30 ml (two tablespoons of flax seed oil) for pregnant women and other persons with higher needs per day. For (seriously) ill patients, the requirement may be considerably lower than two tablespoons of flax seed oil per day. In this case, it is best to contact a Dr. Budwig consultant directly.