Oily fish

The Importance of the Omega Fats 3/6 Ratio and Migraines

Our ancestors who were hunter gatherers ate a diet of quality meats, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables and nut and legumes.

Over many thousands of years our digestive systems have evolved to process the nutrients in this food to the benefit of the human body.

In the last 50 years or so we have begun to consume foods for which we were never designed: notably, convenience and processed foods. More recently the latter has evolved further into ultra-processed food which is definitely outside the scope of our digestive systems.

Historically our predecessors ate Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fats in the ratio 2 to 4:1 or even 1:1. Unusually the Inuit tribes in the Arctic typically ate in the ratio 1:4.

The western diet however has changed this ratio so that today it is typically 16:1. In urban areas of India this ratio is even more out of balance at up to 38 to 50:1. A good ratio is thought to be about 4:1 (by calorie intake).

This is the diet ratio followed by the two countries that tend to live longest: Crete and Japan.

So what are Omega fats?

Omega 6 and omega 3 are polyunsaturated fats essential for our body. We cannot make them so we need to get them from our diet. However, these fatty acids act differently to most other fats. They are not just used for energy or stored, they are biologically active and have important roles in processes like blood clotting and inflammation.

In general both fats are good for the body and good for heart health.

Where do Omega fats come from?

Omega 3: Oily fish like mackerel, salmon, trout, anchovies, chia and flax seeds, walnuts, grass-fed meats, free range poultry.

Omega 6: Soybeans, corn, safflower and sunflower oils, meat, poultry, some fish, and eggs.

Is Omega 6 bad for you?

No, quite the opposite. In addition to being good for the heart, omega 6 oils help reduce the more harmful LDL cholesterol and they boost HDL cholesterol which is a good thing.

Omega 3 has the same effect.

The problem with consuming too much omega 6 is that it can establish systemic inflammation leading to chronic lifestyle diseases like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and diabetes. 

How does the Omega ratio affect weight?

Numerous studies show that increasing the omega 6 intake relative to omega 3 is linked to a significant increase in the risk of obesity in society. Whereas higher consumption of omega 3 is linked to decreases in the risk of obesity.

The general advice is to decrease consumption of omega 6 while increasing consumption of omega 3 to improve the ratio.

Omega fats and pain

Scientists believe omega-6s are not only pro-inflammatory, but they have a pain amplifying effect. While omega-3s are anti-inflammatory with a pain reducing effect.

Migraine and Omega fats

Dr Christopher Ramsden at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, US, and colleagues decided to test whether altering the relative ratio of these fats in people’s diets had any impact on the frequency or severity of their migraines.

Patients were put on one of three diets:

1. A control diet with typical amounts of both fats.

2. A diet with the same omega 6 but increased omega 3.

3. A diet which lowered omega 6 and increased omega 3.

Diets 2 and 3 both resulted in increased production of the pain reducing molecules called oxylipins.

Diet 2 reduced the migraine frequency by 1.3 headache hours per day and 2 headache days per month.

Diet 3 reduced the migraine frequency by 1.7 headache hours per day and 4 headache days per month.

Migraine headache

Migraines and tyramine

About 10 million people in the UK suffer from migraines with women three times more likely to be affected than men.

Numerous foods have been implicated in migraine, ranging from cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, pickled foods such as herring, and even Chinese food.

By experience migraine sufferers typically learn (the hard way) which foods are their particular triggers.

Foods high in tyramine (which is an amino acid) are thought to be particularly bad for migraine sufferers. Foods such as:

Strong or aged cheeses, such as aged cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan; blue cheeses such as Stilton and Gorgonzola; and Camembert. …

Cured meats, which are meats treated with salt and nitrate or nitrite, such as dry-type summer sausages, pepperoni and salami.

However studies by Anne MacGregor, MD, Specialist in Headache and Women’s Health, Barts Health NHS Trust, London, UK tell a different story.

The ongoing study by N1-Headache discovered that despite nearly 50 years of numerous studies that none had established a clear link between tyramine and migraine.

The N1-Headache study concluded the following;

Ironically tyramine appears to be associated more commonly with decreased risk (“protectors”) of migraine attacks in about 10% of patients than increased risk (“triggers”) in about 7% of patients in our Migraine Trust study. In other words, the vast majority of migraine sufferers in our study, 93%, don’t have to worry about tyramine at all.

 

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