What Is Omega-6? - Is Omega-6 Good or Bad?

Nutritionists usually call omega-3 essential fatty acids "good" and omega-6 essential fatty acids "bad." Dividing them into "good" and "bad," however, misses the point of good nutrition, which is getting both of these essential fatty acids in the right balance.

Your Body Needs Both Omega-6 and Omega-3

Omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids are both needed by the body, but for opposite purposes.

The body uses omega-6 essential fatty acids to make the hormones that stimulate the release of mucus, that cause inflammation around foreign objects and germs, and that tighten blood vessels to prevent bleeding. Omega-6's also activate stress hormones.

The body uses omega-3 essential fatty acids to make the hormones that stop the release of mucus, that keep inflammation from destroying healthy tissues, and that relax blood vessels to permit blood flow. Omega-3's also help the brain make the neurotransmitters associated with good mood and relaxation.

The body needs both kinds of hormones. The problem with the modern diet is that the fats in meat, eggs, and dairy products, and the fats that are relatively more abundant in plant oils, contain a lot more omega-6 than omega-3.

Corn, sesame, safflower, and sunflower oils, for example, contain 100 per cent omega-6 fatty acids and no omega-3 fatty acids at all.

Soybean oil contains 7-1/2 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, but when you look at the DHA and EPA your body can actually make from the omega-3 fatty acids, the ratio is more like 50 to 1.

Walnut oil is a little better, but the ratio is still 7 to 1.

Only flaxseed oil and perilla oil provide more omega-3's than omega-6's, and even their omega-3's aren't in the form the body can use readily.

The body needs more omega-6 than omega-3, but only about twice as much. Most of us get 20 to 100 times as much of the fatty acids that make inflammatory hormones, so diseases of inflammation are a chronic dietary problem. Most of us get too much omega-6.

Is It Possible to Have an Omega-6 Deficiency?

If you ever eat fast food or deli sandwiches, you won't have an omega-6 deficiency!(See Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency) However, it is possible to have an omega-6 deficiency. As recently as 70 years ago in places like the United States, and even today in many Middle Eastern countries among the poor, it is actually is possible not to get enough omega-6.

The people who don't get enough omega-6 fatty acids are those who live mostly on bread and beans. Just a touch of sesame oil, corn oil, or butter is enough, but at least a tablespoon (15 ml) of fat or the equivalent every day is essential for good health.

People who have omega-6 deficiencies can't fight infections. Their immune systems can be overrun, especially in the skin. But correcting the omega-6 deficiency without also correcting omega-3 deficiencies is still problematic. It's not all about "how much."

The omega-3 essential fatty acid of a single serving or a wild vegetable called purslane, or just a bite of fish, for instance, can balance that one tablespoon of oil. But everyone needs at least a little of both kinds of essential fatty acids.

It's Also Possible to Have an Omega-3 Excess

Some people who take 25 to 50 fish oil capsules a day develop a condition of omega-3 excess that keeps the body from making the protective hormones it needs. The easiest way to tell whether you are getting too much omega-3 is belching, burping, and gas.

If these happen, don't take so much fish oil or microalgae! But the easiest way to know you need fewer omega-6's and more omega-3's is by developing high blood pressure, heart disease, eczema, allergies, arthritis, cancer, depression-any of myriad conditions that omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements can help you overcome.

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