Evolutionary Aspects of Diet: The Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and the Brain

Abstract

Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet that had a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (FA) of about 1/1; whereas today, Western diets have a ratio of 10/1 to 20–25/1, indicating that Western diets are deficient in omega-3 FA compared with the diet on which humans evolved and their genetic patterns were established. Omega-6 and omega-3 FA are not interconvertible in the human body and are important components of practically all cell membranes. Studies with nonhuman primates and human newborns indicate that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for the normal functional development of the brain and retina, particularly in premature infants. DHA accounts for 40% of the membrane phospholipid FA in the brain. Both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA have an effect on membrane receptor function and even neurotransmitter generation and metabolism. There is growing evidence that EPA and DHA could play a role in hostility and violence in addition to the beneficial effects in substance abuse disorders and alcoholism. The balance of omega-6 and omega-3 FA is important for homeostasis and normal development throughout the life cycle.

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Correspondence to Artemis P. Simopoulos.

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Simopoulos, A.P. Evolutionary Aspects of Diet: The Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and the Brain. Mol Neurobiol 44, 203–215 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12035-010-8162-0

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Keywords

  • Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid balance
  • Brain development
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Metabolism
  • Aggression
  • Violent behavior
  • Drug abuse
  • Genetics polymorphism