Alot of people belive that a balance in the omega 3:6 ratio is important and this was originally concived as a balance between alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, ALA:LA, in the diet. These two fats are the starting points for the generation in the body of long chain fats like arachodonic acid, EPA and DHA.
My question is how do EPA and DHA balance out LA when eaten in the diet?
Most LA does not end up as arachodonic acid in the body (not sure exactly how much does) some gets burnt as calories, stays as gamma-linoleic acid products or just stays in membranes.
This is hypothetical but depending on the conversion of LA, could 1 gram of EPA/DHA balance out 10 grams of LA?
Or does taking plenty of EPA itself mean the ratio is no longer relavant?
I tend to agree with Stephan at Whole Health Source in that it's most important not to get more than 3-5% calories for omega-6 than it is to have a proper ratio. Modernized Inuit are a good anecdote to this effect. They still eat massive amounts of fish and other seafood, but they suffer from obesity, diabetes, and other diseases of civilization. If there is anything I've learned since going paleo it's that I can't eat a bunch of peanut butter and then take a bunch of fish oil to cancel it out.
You need a minimum of long chain n-3 PUFAs. You don't want excess LA. I don't think we know enough yet to say the one "balances" out the other. Just get 1 gram or so of LC n-3 per day. And, keep LA under 10 grams per day, perhaps well under.
I wouldn't say that the ratio of ALA:LA is a good starting point (even if that was the historical understandng). The importance of the ratios o-3:o-6 consumed is surely to influence the ratios of omega 3:6 in tissues, since what stocks the body can draw on will determine the extent of your inflammatory response. It wouldn't be the ALA:LA ratio that was important specifically therefore. As you say, ALA is the starting point for the compounds which actually have an effect, but it's those compounds that really matter. Another post of Stephan's outlines the significance of the ratio of omega 3:6. In terms of ALA being the starting point for EPA/DHA. Well yes, it can be turned into EPA/DHA (the useful forms of omega-3) but wildly inefficiently (around a couple of %).
Getting adequate EPA/DHA themselves wouldn't mean that the ratio was unimportant because it would still be that which modulated the amount of inflammation. Getting adequate EPA/DHA would simply mean that you had enough for the basic functions which the body needed it for (building the brain and such like), not enough to balance out hypothetical amounts of omega-6.
The only way I could think that an amount of EPA/DHA could balance out 10g LA would be if only the converted forms of omega-6 had (significant) pro-inflammatory effect. The page you link to suggests that different forms can be pro-inflammatory/neutral/anti-inflammatory in different tissue, so supposdly that could get quite complex. I think the best rule of thumb to adopt would either be that it's total omega 3:6 that counts or that it's only ingested EPA/DHA vs omega-6 that counts, depending on whether the difference between ALA and EPA/DHA in terms of inflammation is not that large or very significant. The only other thing that would matter is how effectively we convert omega-6 into AA, which I'm afraid I've no idea about (after all, no-one ever worries about getting enough omega-6!
Do you still take Fish Oil? 12 Answers