Essential Fatty Acids – getting the right balance


Helen Marsden

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Ceri, Alistair and I (aka the Medi-guinea Pigs) all believe we follow a healthy lifestyle, and in particular eat healthy diets. However, over the last 12 months, as we have used our own bodies to further the cause of scientific investigation (ha!) we have found that there have been some startling differences in our results.

In many cases, this has been reflected in our approaches to health: Ceri is experimental, and would much prefer to achieve optimum results through diet and lifestyle alone (read his Vitamin D “Sunshine experiment” to see what I mean), I take no chances and have always taken supplements to ensure my levels of important nutrients remain at the optimum level, whereas Alistair has taken a more laissez faire approach, assuming (hoping) that his normal diet will provide everything his body needs.

All of us were fairly confident that we were following a healthy diet, which would mean that our balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids was good. Ceri and I ate fish more frequently than the recommended 2 portions per week (for me, read daily) while Alistair rarely ate processed food, which is usually full of Omega 6 fatty acids. So when it came to taking the Essential Fatty Acids Check to see the balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty acids in our blood we were all fairly optimistic, confident that we would achieve a better balance than is typical of someone following a traditional Western diet.  We knew that a typical result for the average American is a ratio of 15:1 plus – i.e. that they have 15 times more Omega 6 fatty acids in their blood than Omega 3. The optimum ratio is 1:1 rising to 3:1 at the most. In the results we see back from the lab we rarely see ratios that good, and virtually never in people who aren’t taking supplements. This goes to show how difficult it is to get the right balance of fatty acids through diet alone.

Before we go into our results, it is worth reminding ourselves on why it is so important to increase the ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids in our bodies. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and are thought to protect against numerous conditions including heart disease, strokes, cancer, depression and autoimmune diseases – i.e. many of the debilitating conditions associated with a Western lifestyle. In contrast, many Omega 6 fatty acids promote inflammation and contribute to these debilitating conditions.

The Medi-Guinea Pigs had our Essential Fatty Acids Check in January this year. As you might expect, neither Ceri nor Alistair were taking supplements whereas I was taking 2400mg of wild salmon oil per day. Our results might surprise you – as they surprised me. I expected my result to be the best. I was taking a high strength supplement AND eating oily fish most days. My ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 was 5. 42 – not bad, but still not in the optimal range. Alistair’s was 17.66  - i.e. typical of someone eating a Western diet and NOT supplementing. Ceri’s result was the surprise – his ratio was only 3.87 – almost ideal and he was achieving this through diet alone. Clearly achieving a good ratio of Essential Fatty Acids isn’t just about how much Omega 3 you consume but also about how much Omega 6 you don’t! If I look at my diet it is probably heavier than it should be in processed foods, especially salad dressings, which are heavy users of vegetable oils.

So what next? We are all aiming to improve our ratios of Essential Fatty Acids even further. Alistair has been taking supplements, taking 2400mg per day as I do, Ceri has increased his intake of oily fish even further while I have maintained my supplements and fish consumption but cut my Omega 6 fatty acids by reducing the amount of fat and animal protein in my diet.

We will test again in a month or two and update you of our progress. Watch this space!


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