Food and Health

How Omega-3 Fats May Combat Pain


Omega-3 fats get quite of bit of attention in the nutrition circles and for good reason.  These fats play a role in heart health, brain health, and even your genetic health.1  One of the primary problems with the Standard American Diet (SAD) is that our consumption of omega-3 fat is far too low.  In fact, it is now widely accepted that the dramatic changes in our diet over the past 150 years is largely responsible for the overwhelming cases of chronic disease we see today.1

One particular change in our diet has been the increasing ratio of omega-6 fat to omega-3 fat as we have been continuously bombarded with ingredients and foods composed of corn.  Corn is extremely rich in the omega-6 fat linoleic acid with ½ cup of yellow corn containing nearly 300mg of omega-6 fat to a mere 10mg of omega-3 fat.2

What’s the problem with this?

Well, for starters, to gain any real health benefits from your polyunsaturated fat intake, your omega-6 ratio should be around 2 to 1 and really should not exceed 4 to 1.1  The current ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in Americans will vary among individuals but currently averages around 16 to 1!1  Considering corn contains a ratio of around 30 to 1, the fact that we feed it to all the animals we eat and slip it into nearly every flavored beverage and processed food product certainly isn’t helping this cause.

Looking at some of the functions of omega-3 fats we find anti-inflammatory effects on the top of the list.  This is how correcting your omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio can potentially help you manage chronic or acute pain.  Naturally, lowering inflammation in the body will help subside any pain.  The beauty of omega-3 fats is that they do this similar to the way anti-inflammatory drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) do it.  These drugs inhibit what are known as the cyclooxygenase pathways and are referred to as COX-inhibitors for short.

As you raise your level of omega-3 fatty acids and lower your omega-6 fatty acids to appropriate levels, this will also down regulate the cyclooxygenase pathways.3  The difference between omega-3 fats and drugs is that the drugs do this in a very severe way, almost completely blocking COX-2 activity.  Unfortunately, the COX-2 pathway also helps maintain the lining of your stomach and tissue of the heart, which is why these medications can lead to ulcers and heart disease.  Omega-3 fats in your diet, on the other hand, will not harm your stomach and are shown to be extremely heart healthy.1

Some foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are:

Fish and shellfish


Chia seeds


In addition to eliminating processed foods and meat from animals raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, it’s a good idea to stay away from corn oil and soybean oil if you want to lower your omega-6 fats.  Don’t get me wrong, omega-6 fats are essential to your health also.  However, getting these fats from whole foods like fresh vegetables is by far the best way to do it.

1.  Simopoulos AP.  The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases. Experimental Biology and Medicine.  2008; 233(6):  674-688.

  1. SELFNutritionData. Accessed April 25, 2018.
  2. Lord RS, Bralley JA. Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine. Revised 2nd ed. Duluth, GA:  Genova Diagnostics; 2012.

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About Laura Cadoret, MS

Helping people see the big picture in food industry and nutrition
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