Omega 3-6-9 Balance and Hayfever

I have delayed writing about my new adventures in nutrition with Glen Aukerman at the OSU Center for Integrative Medicine because it’s still a work in progress, and I haven’t been able to draw conclusions yet about any changes.

There are a couple of things I’ve become more sure of, though, and they are:

  • YOU are the expert on YOU: there will never be a diet, doctor, or protocol that fits everyone and requires no individual tailoring based on one’s own experience;
  • You have to be very careful with supplementation: your food and supplements can be just as powerful as any other drug, and the effects and interactions of them are not always obvious or well-known;
  • Balancing omegas (essential fatty acids) is really important! Inflammation is the source of much disease, and we all eat way too much inflammation-causing Omega 6 oils.

One of the things I have been doing for the last 90 days since first discovering the need to balance fatty acids is aiming for a 1-1 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6. Dr. Weil, Chris Kresser, Dr. Aukerman or pretty much any credible medical source on record now all agree that balancing the essential fatty acids (EFA) Omega 3 and 6 as much as possible is required to prevent disease. Of course there are some who still disagree, but it’s becoming difficult to ignore the benefits of EFA balance. Modern American diets average 1-20 to a 1-30 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6, and this is a very new phenomenon, along with the rise in the rates a host of inflammatory diseases. Balancing EFAs means reducing plentiful Omega 6 oils in the diet or offsetting them to a 1 to 1 ratio with fish oils high in Omega 3, with a goal of reducing disease-causing inflammation in the body.

Why do we have such an EFA imbalance in developed countries? Partly because we have a societal head-on collision between this new information about EFA imbalance on one side, and the momentum of the current movement that is pushing whole grains, soy, nuts, seeds and poultry as “healthy” alternatives to fast food and empty calories on the other side. True, perhaps the nuts are an improvement in some ways – empty calories rob our bodies of nutrients – as in, you get a net negative balance nutrition-wise because you use valuable nutrients to digest the soda or the donut. But our switch to vegetable oils from trans-fats for cooking also put us in a new and different pickle – the healthier alternative used in most restaurants today is soybean oil, or a “vegetable oil blend” heavily weighted toward soybean oil, which has the highest Omega 6 content of any seed oil.

Back when I read the book Omega Rx in my quest for health I didn’t know any of this. I thought I could just throw back some fish oil every day to reap the benefits of Omega 3 supplementation – I did it for a little over 3 years and while I did notice some improvement, I still struggled with allergies and started to gain weight in the 3rd year. Attending Dr. Aukerman’s nutritional principles lecture woke me up to the importance of Omega 6 and 3 balance, and that I was eating massive quantities of Omega 6 in poultry, garbanzos, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil in a misguided attempt to eat “healthy” (you can also check out his book from the library). Add to that eating at places like Chipotle that I thought were healthy, but turns out they use soybean oil in everything – including the rice! Oh, and let’s not forget all the salad dressing on the healthy greens – I dare you to try to find salad dressing in the store that does not contain soybean oil. There are 1 or 2 if you hunt in the specialty aisle, but I found it quite shocking when I really started to look for an acceptable dressing.

So, suffice it to say the 2 teaspoons of high quality fish oil I was taking every day didn’t even put a dent in my daily Omega 6 tally. The quantities of Omega 6 I was getting in my salad dressing, mayo, chicken, turkey, hummus, olive oil and almonds, in particular, were so high that I wasn’t bringing the ratio down enough to matter – and I was eating well – lots of organic and whole foods!

Now I take the amount of Omega 3 fish oil at every meal needed to balance out whatever Omega 6 is in it. Since I can’t take enough (I could but it’s expensive and who wants to take that many pills???) to balance out soybean oil, I avoid it entirely, as well as garbanzos and poultry, and am only using macadamia nuts sparingly when I eat nuts right now.

Bloodwork shows my cholesterol levels all moved back to ideal after 90 days of this new approach. And, I have a new recent development to report: I am not having the usual seasonal allergies for this time of year. Pollen levels have started to rise here in central Ohio, and I am not having a problem. I am used to sneezing, congestion, tiredness, itchy eyes and nose this time of year, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening. I cannot fully express the impact of this here – I have suffered miserable hayfever and an ever-increasing list of food allergies since grade school.  I can hardly believe this – don’t really even believe it yet.

I hope this lack of allergic reaction is a trend that continues. I did read recently about a 2005 German study that looked at 568 people and found that those with a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells experienced reduced hay fever symptoms, and a 2006 study in Sweden that found “Regular fish consumption before age 1 appears to be associated with a reduced risk of allergic disease and sensitization to food and inhalant allergens during the first 4 years of life”. I didn’t make the connection until recently and plan to ask the doc about it in two weeks. Perhaps Omega 3 oils cool the allergic response?

Here’s a chart that shows omegas in foods if you want to try to start balancing your omegas. A way to get some perspective is to think about how many triple strength (1000mg omega 3 each) fish oil capsules you would need to take to equal the Omega 6…you’ll see right away that some foods just aren’t worth it: 1 oz (2 T) of soy or corn oil has over 14,000 mg of Omega 6. You can also use the free KIM-2 program from the National Institute of Health to help choose foods for EFA balance.

Here’s the German study if you want a peek: Hoff S, Seiler H, Heinrich J, Kompauer I, Nieters A, Becker N, Nagel G, Gedrich K, Karg G, Wolfram G, Linseisen J. Allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 59.9 (2005): 1071 – 1080.

I’ll have more next time on how I am doing this and staying sane without going broke taking fish oil, including recipes :). It’s all a work in progress as I learn to rethink “healthy” eating.

Please let me know if you are interested in this subject and what you think of this article!

Thanks for reading!

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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