Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning humans and other animals must ingest them for good health because the body requires them but can’t make them from other food components. The term refers to fatty acids required for biological processes, and not those that only act as fuel. Often sourced from fish oils and flax seed oils, essential fatty acids have been heavily researched in the medical community. Numerous articles in the medical literature support the use of omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish sources, in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.
The position of chemical bonds in a fatty acid molecule determines the name of the molecule. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are the most important types. Over the past 100 years a dramatic change in our diet has occurred. We have invented an industry of prepared foods made in factories and shipped to consumers via supermarkets. With this “invention”, product shelf-life became a premium. Essential fatty acids, on the other hand, kill shelf-life because they have a tendency to go rancid when exposed to heat, light and oxygen. At the same time, large commercial oil manufacturers began producing the refined vegetable oils we are now so familiar with. Currently, 4 oils (soybean, cottonseed, corn, and canola) account for 96% of the vegetable oil use in the U.S. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of these combined oils is between 12:1 and 25:1. An estimate of the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in our diet 100 years ago is between 3:1 and 5:1. This dramatic shift away from omega-3 and toward omega-6 oil consumption is thought to be one of the leading factors in the rise of chronic illnesses, especially cardiovascular diseases over the past century. Modern agricultural practices have a dramatic effect on the essential fatty acid ratios of animal products. For example, a free-range chicken egg has a omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:3, while a corn fed USDA chicken egg has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 19:4. To regain a balanced essential fatty acid ratio in our diet is almost impossible without supplementing our diets with high levels of omega-3 containing oils such as flaxseed oil or concentrated fish oil supplements.