It is very likely that you are deficient in omega-3 fats. This is one of the most important nutritional deficiencies in this country, far more important than any vitamin or mineral deficiency.

Omega-3 fats are essential for your body. Hundreds of published studies show that optimal omega-3 levels can greatly improve your overall health, increase your energy, and help you retain mental function as you age. Omega-3s also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease – and they can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, digestive disorders, and a host of other diseases.

Deficiencies in this important nutrient have also been tied to many conditions, including:

weight gain

violence and other behavior disorders

memory problems

dyslexia and learning difficulty

eczema

allergies

The Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio

Along with omega-3, another essential fatty acid, omega-6, is also very important for your health. The difference is that while the diets of most Americans are lacking in omega-3, they are overloaded with omega-6.

One hundred years ago, the average American ate less than one pound of vegetable oils per year. Today, the average American eats more than 75 pounds of these polyunsaturated (omega-6) fats each year. While omega-6 fats are essential for life, when consumed in unnatural amounts they actually promote disease. It’s similar to water. While you need it to stay alive, if you drink gallons of water in a short time it will kill you.

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Our ancestors evolved over millennia on this ratio. Today, though, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1!

The reason for this highly skewed (see Word to the Wise, below) ratio? The primary sources of omega-6 are corn, soy, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils. All of these oils are overabundant in the typical American diet. (If you don’t believe me, pick up just about any processed food and look at the label. One of these oils will be in the list of ingredients.)

Meanwhile, omega-3 is primarily found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and fish – items that are far less prevalent in most people’s diets. Combine an overload of omega-6 with hardly any omega-3, and you get the dangerous 20:1 or 50:1 ratio that we see today.

How to Increase Your Omega-3 Fats for Optimal Health

By far, the best type of omega-3 fats are those found in fish. That’s because the omega-3 in fish is high in two fatty acids that are crucial to human health: DHA and EPA. These two fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases.

Your brain is also highly dependent on DHA. Low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Inadequate intake of omega-3 fats in pregnant women has also been linked to premature birth, low birth weight, and to lower IQ and hyperactivity in children.

While you can get omega-3 from plant sources like flaxseeds, it exists in plants as the fatty acid ALA. Your body must convert the ALA into DHA and EPA – but the conversion rate is actually very small. You would have to eat large amounts of plant sources of omega-3 to get even close to the amounts of DHA and EPA that you can get with fish.

Most fish, though – even farm-raised fish – are polluted with mercury, PCBs, and other toxins. Sadly, these toxins make eating the fish more of a detriment than a benefit to your health. It would be better for you to supplement daily with a high-quality brand of fish oil or cod liver oil. (What’s the difference? Cod liver oil contains vitamin D; fish oil does not.) These oils are purified and therefore do not pose the health risks of polluted fish.

Once you increase your omega-3 by taking a high-quality fish oil or cod liver oil, it’s essential that you cut back on your omega-6 intake. This means limiting the amount of vegetable oils in your diet, not only in their pure form but also in the many, many processed foods (potato chips, baked goods, salad dressings, margarine, shortening, etc.) that contain them. Acceptable healthy oils include high-quality extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and organic butter … or, better yet, grass-fed organic butter.

Only then will your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio begin to balance out and approach the healthy 1:1 ratio of our ancestors.

To sum things up, you can easily start down the road to better health by following this two-step plan:

1. Most Americans, young and old, are highly deficient in omega-3. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your children is to routinely consume fish oil in warm months and cod liver oil in cool months (to get the added vitamin D when your sun exposure is low). My favorite high-quality brand is Carlson’s, available in most health food stores or through my website www.mercola.com.

2. You should cut out or reduce the oils and foods high in omega-6 fats from your diet, as most Americans get far too many of them. This includes corn, sunflower, soy, canola and safflower oil, margarine, vegetable oil, and shortening.

[Ed. Note: Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder/director of The Optimal Wellness Center. His website, www.mercola.com, is the most popular natural health website in the world, with 495,000 subscribers to his free health e-newsletter and 10 million page views per month.

Dr. Mercola will be one of the featured speakers during the “health track” of ETR’s upcoming Wealth-Building Conference. For information about the Conference and all the scheduled speakers, Click here.]