The mismatch of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids in our diet today is one of the leading causes of obesity and chronic disease today. It is also one of the leading contributors to acne as well.
Knowing about the essential fatty acids is crucial for living an optimal, healthy life. Learn about EFA’s below, and get the rest of the information you need to get clearer skin and live an optimal life in the Clear Skin Nutrition book.
What Are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats that your body cannot make on its own. They must be obtained through the diet. The two EFAs are called omega 3 and omega 6. They have their respected names because omega 6 fatty acids have their first double bond at their 6th carbon and omega 3’s have their first double bond at their 3rd carbon atom. (Each pointed end in the structures below represents a carbon atom. If you count each pointed end, starting from the furthest on the left, until you get to a double bond, you’ll see that the double bond is on the 6th point on the omega 6’s and it’s on the 3rd point on the omega 3’s).
Both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are necessary for the body to work, but problems arise when the ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s get out of balance. Ideally, the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 should be in the range of 2:1 to 1:2 omega 3:omega 6.
When Fatty Acids Cause Inflammation
In industrialized countries, especially the U.S., the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is more around 1:20 omega 3 to omega 6. It can reach as high as 1:40 in some areas. This imbalance is one of the leading causes of inflammation in the world and leads to nearly all diseases. Improving the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is a practice that is encouraged and urged by every single institution, organization, doctor and health care practitioner out there. I honestly cannot think of a doctor or health authority that does not recommend supplementing with an omega 3 supplement or at least getting the ratio in balance. Getting the anti-inflammatory omega 3 to inflammatory omega 6 ratio in balance is possibly the most important thing you can do for your health.
The reason for this is simple. As just stated, an improper ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 contributes to inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the cornerstone of nearly all diseases and drives the disease process. Acne is no exception.
Why Fatty Acid Ratios Get Imbalanced
There are many reasons why our balance of omega 3 to omega 6 is so out of whack.
Reason 1: Conventional Animal Products
The first reason for the huge imbalance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is because the majority of our diet consists of omega 6 fats. Industrial oils, government-subsidized corn and soy products, most nuts, meat (especially conventional meat), cheeses and dairy all contain higher amounts of omega 6s. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, along with flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds contain omega 3 fats. A huge problem in concerns to EFAs is the non grass-fed meat products that are consumed in ridiculous quantities in America. When a cow is fed genetically modified corn, soy and other grains, it consumes more omega 6 fatty acids and its meat is filled with much higher levels of omega 6s than omega 3s. When cows graze on grasses, as they are biologically designed to, they convert more of what they eat into omega 3 fatty acids, and the ratio of fats in their meat is more inline with the ratio of fats you need for optimal health. This is just one reason why conventional animal products are harmful to your health.
Reason 2: Industrial Seed Oils
A second reason why the ratio is so out of balance is because we cook so much of our food in processed industrial seed oils high in omega 6 fatty acids. These oils are dangerous and should not be consumed. They include oils derived from corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, vegetable oil, grapeseed, canola, peanut, rice bran, and vegetable shortening and margarine. Omega 3-rich fats like flax seed should never, ever be heated because they are so fragile. This is one of the reasons why for optimal health, if we can handle it, a large portion of our diet should be raw. We need unaltered, real, raw, enzyme-rich, healthy healing foods in their raw state to get the nutrients, including the fragile essential fatty acids, into our bodies.* Having a large salad with some flax, chia, or hemp seeds or oils can help us maintain healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
*Some people with complicated digestive issues cannot handle lots of raw foods. I was one of those cases. If you fall into that category, try blending, juicing, sautéing, baking, broiling, boiling or blanching your vegetables to make them easier to digest.*
Reason 3: Omega 6 Fats Are Added To Foods
Another reason why we are so overwhelmed with omega 6 fatty acids is because they are added to so many foods! Even “health foods” have loads of omega 6s added to them. If you go to Whole Foods and check the ingredients in their hot bar items, you’ll see the same type of oil found in processed foods that is loaded with omega 6. I’m talking about canola oil. Canola oil is a source of omega 6 and is found in almost every processed food item. That’s why it’s so important to read ingredient labels. When I started doing this I was shocked at how many “healthy food” items contained canola oil.
Why Are Essential Fatty Acids Crucial For Our Health?
Essential fatty acids are crucial for us because they create substances called prostaglandins in our bodies. Prostaglandins (PG) help regulate our hormones. They cause inflammation when needed and help heal inflammation when it goes on for too long. They maintain homeostasis in the body and make sure everything’s running smoothly. When cells are injured, enzymes act upon the cell’s lipid membrane and release prostaglandins. The PGs then help to send in the clean up crew of white blood cells, which might cause initial inflammation (swelling, redness, heat, pain) but they also quickly resolve the situation so things go back to normal in the body. Without the right prostaglandins, a multitude of problems can arise. For acne, not having the right PGs can cause increased sebum production through hormonal imbalances, increased redness and inflammation and poor cellular communication. Essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 are what create these PGs, and having them in the right balance means that things will run smoothly in the body.
There are many different prostaglandins but we will just discuss three of them here. This is what you need to know…
PG E1 – anti-inflammatory
PG E3 – anti-inflammatory
PG E2 – inflammatory by responding to cellular injury.
There is one omega 6 that is actually anti-inflammatory. It’s called gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and it helps the body to produce the anti-inflammatory PG E1 by converting into something called dihomo-gama-linolenic acid (DGLA), which is the precursor of prostaglandin E1. GLA is found in evening primrose oil (EPO), which is a supplement recommended for acne. GLA is also found in Borage Oil.
Studies With Evening Primrose Oil And Skin Conditions
There have been studies showing that atopic dermatitis (AD), an inflammatory skin disorder characterized by eczematous lesions, skin dryness and severe itching, have seen improvement with EPO.
In one study, they measured the severity of the patients at baseline, four weeks and 12 weeks after starting EPO. “At baseline, 42.9 percent of the patients had mild symptoms (objective SCORAD <25) and 57.1 percent had moderate symptoms (objective SCORAD 25–50) … After the 12-week treatment period, 93.2 percent of the patients had mild symptoms, whereas only 6.8 percent had moderate symptoms.”
The fact that EPO increases the anti-inflammatory prostaglandin E1 and has been shown to improve dermatological condition AD is enough to warrant it a spot on the supplements to take for acne. Evening primrose is an omega 6 fatty acid. Normally, omega 6 is inflammatory and omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, but when it comes to GLA and EPO, because it helps to create the PG E1, it is an anti-inflammatory omega 6.
Best Source Of Omega 3
For omega 3 fatty acids, the best source comes from krill oil. Fish contains omega 3 fats, but you have to be very specific with the fish you eat and focus on eating only wild caught varieties such as salmon, mahi, snapper, and other wild fish because other varieties of fish contain high levels of mercury and pollutants. It’s absolutely critical to get wild fish — not farm raised fish — because farmed fish may have at least 10 times the amount of cancer causing organic pollutants compared to the wild variety. Krill is an oceanic creature that contains both healing omega 3s and antioxidants to protect the fragile oil. I used to recommend fish oil, but I have now switched to krill oil for the following reasons:
- Fish can contain pollutants, heavy metals like mercury and other toxins. This means that fish oil can contain the same things. Krill oil is at the bottom of the food chain, which means that the toxicity levels are minute compared to those higher up on the food chain due to bioaccumulation. (When larger animals eat smaller animals they accumulate the toxins. Krill is so low on the food chain that this isn’t a problem).
- Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely susceptible to oxidative damage from light, heat and oxygen. Antioxidants can protect this oxidative damage from occurring, but fish oil doesn’t contain much antioxidants. Krill oil contains the extremely powerful antioxidant astaxanthin which protects the omega 3s.
- Fish oil carries omega 3s in the form of triacylglycerides, which means they need to go through a series of steps to be absorbed in the body. Krill oil contains omega 3s as phospholipids, which are used to make cell membranes. This means that the EPA and DHA in krill oil gets absorbed at a superior rate compared to fish oil. People end up with similar amounts of EPA and DHA in their blood when taking smaller doses of krill oil compared to fish oil.
Other Sources Of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Other sources of omega 3 fats are found in plants such as flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and, to a smaller amount, in leafy green vegetables. The problem with only obtaining omega 3 from plant sources is that they only contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. The human body uses the longer chains of fatty acids, EPA and DHA, for their anti-inflammatory properties. ALA from plants needs to get converted into EPA and DHA in the body. A problem is that most people are only capable of converting a very small amount of ALA to EPA and DHA. I believe that those suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions (I believe acne falls under that spectrum) have an inefficient conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA, which is why supplementing with EPA and DHA in the form of krill oil for a while is a good idea. Then, when your omega 3 levels raise higher, they can be taken intermittently.
Essential Fatty Acid Recap
- Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are essential to our health and we need to obtain them from our diet.
- The healthy ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is 1:1 to 1:4, but most Americans are getting in a ratio of 1:10 to 1:40 in some cases. An improper ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is one of the leading causes of inflammation, which stems out into nearly every disease.
- Conventional meat and dairy products, along with industrial oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, vegetable oil, grapeseed, canola, peanut, rice bran, and vegetable shortening and margarine, all contribute to an omega 6 overload. These should not be eaten for health.
- I recommend supplementing with krill oil for a few months to help restore deficient omega 3 levels. I prefer krill oil as opposed to fish oil to increase omega 3 fatty acid levels in the body.
- GLA is a helpful omega 6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil, which has been shown to have improvement with atopic dermatitis. GLA is also found in borage oil. It may also show improvements in acne.
- If you are going to take any supplements, always look into contraindications to make sure it is safe for you.
- Be sure to eat copious amounts of green leafy vegetables and get in chia, hemp, and/or flax seeds to maintain healthy omega 3 levels.
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