Fortunately, generalized nutrition advice such as “don’t eat fat” is being replaced by “eat the good fats.” For years, Americans have focused on eating polyunsaturated fats, which ended up being mostly Omega-6 fats. The proportion of Omega-3 (O-3) to Omega-6 (O-6) became out of balance, with O-3 fatty acids becoming in short supply in many people’s diets. Scientific studies often show that this lack of balance between O-3 and O-6 fats occurs in individuals with mental illness. Research regarding schizophrenia has shown many interesting, but inconclusive, results. Alteration in metabolism as well as dietary and supplement intake are being studied. Both O-3 and O-6 fatty acids are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA).
It isn’t that O-6 fats are “bad,” it is just that they are out of balance. The head of The National Institute of Mental Health, Joseph Hibbeln, MD, and colleagues, estimate that a healthy dietary allowance for O-3 fatty acids for current U.S. diets was estimated at 3.5 g/d for a 2000-kcal diet. This allowance for O-3 fatty acids can likely be reduced to one-tenth of that amount by consuming fewer O-6 fats. A healthy ratio of O-3:O-6 is said to be 1:2 or 1:1-this is the estimated ratio in the human diet in Paleolithic times. When reading labels, remember O-3 fatty acids include ALA, EPA, and DHA. O-6 fatty acids include GLA and AA.
What would you notice if you didn’t eat enough essential fatty acids? You may notice dry hair and skin, brittle nails, eczema, and asthma among other things, as well as abnormal lab findings, especially in red cells.
Improvements you may see if you did eat enough O-3 fatty acids include improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, increased body heat production and reduction of body fat. Since the nerve dendrites are 80% fat, changes in the fat content of nerve cell membranes influences fluidity and actions of neurons. Signaling by neurotransmitters is thought to be a factor in mental illness.
Can you get too much of a good thing? Yes. People taking blood thinners, those who are easily bruised or who bleed easily should consult their physician or registered dietitian before supplementing with O-3 fatty acids.
What foods provide O-3 and O-6 fatty acids?
Examples of Foods with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish: Salmon- 3.7 grams/6 oz.
Tuna (canned, light)- 0.4 grams/6 oz.
Cod: 0.3-0.4 grams/6 oz
Mackerel: 2.0 grams/6 oz
Shellfish: shrimp-0.6 grams/6 oz.
Flaxseed oil: 8 grams/Tablespoon
Canola oil: 1.3 grams/Tablespoon
Soy oil: 0.9 grams/Tablespoon
Safflower, Sesame, Sunflower oil: 0
Plant sources of O-3 fatty acids do not provide EPA and DHA. For EPA & DHA content of fish see
Examples of Oils with Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Sunflower 8.9 grams/Tablespoon
Corn 7.9 grams/Tablespoon
Cottonseed 7.0 grams/Tablespoon
Soy 6.9 grams/Tablespoon
Olive 1.1 grams/Tablespoon
Coconut 0.2 grams/Tablespoon
Ref: Hibbeln, JR, LRG Nieminen, TL Blasbalg, JA Riggs, and WEM Lands. Healthy intakes of n_3 and n_6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity. Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 83(suppl):1483S–1493S.