The Fish Foundation


Site Map Nutrition Aspects References



Dietary Balance


Home Up Lungs Brain & Eyes Heart & Circulation Joints

The Health Impact of Omega-3 Polyunsaturates

note: in the narrative which follows, and that on other pages, underlined words indicate a link which will take you directly to the referred source. Use the "back " command on your browser to return to the narrative.

Restoring the Balance

What happens if the balance is wrong?

Impact on particular areas of the body


Restoring the Balance

The human body has evolved to run best on a mixture of polyunsaturates of the omega-3 and the omega-6 types.

While it can survive in the short term without either or both, long term, optimal health requires that both be present in the diet. Just what the balance should be for ideal health, we don’t yet know for sure, but we do know that too much of either type can be no better than not enough. As far as we can tell from the available evidence, man evolved in an environment which would have provided roughly equal amounts of the two families. It is difficult to be more precise than this. Human breast milk is another indication, though that too can be influenced by short term dietary changes. All this evidence implies that the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is between 1:1 and 5:1. Since by any method of measurement, modern Western diets provide at least 8 times more omega-6, there is concern that this is too much, and that the balance must be redressed, both by reducing our intake of omega-6 polyunsaturates and increasing our intake of the omega-3’s

Home Micronutrients Omega-3 Dietary Sources Fats & Oils Macronutrients Balance

What happens if the balance is wrong?

Every cell in the human body is surrounded by a membrane, which among other things controls the things that enter and leave the cell. Polyunsaturates form an important component of the structure of the membrane, and if the balance of polyunsaturates in the diet is not optimal, then the polyunsaturates in cell membranes will also not be optimal, and the way that a cell functions may be adversely affected. The actual effect will depend on which cell is under consideration. Though it is likely that there are adverse effects which can arise from too much omega-3, in practice, given the Western food supply, it would not be easily possible to get too much omega-3.

Just what the health impact of increasing the omega-3 intake would be will depend not only on the individual concerned, but also on the cell type which was for other reasons, most susceptible to the effects of an adverse omega-6/omega-3 balance. In some it could be the cardiocytes, the cells which keep the heart beating. In others it could be the cells which produce the articular cartilage in the joints. For still others, it could be the skin, while in others, the gastro-intestinal tract. Each cell type seems to show different and probably characteristic effects of an adverse balance, and those effects will be outlined in the sections which follow.

Micronutrients Omega-3 Dietary Sources Fats & Oils Macronutrients Balance

Impact on particular areas of the body

For information on the impact of too little omega-3 on particular areas of the body, click on any of the underlined headings below:

cardiovascular system . joints . skin

lungs . brain and eyes . digestive tract


Home Site Map Nutrition Aspects References