The thing most nutritional advisers overlook about omega-6 essential fatty acids is that they are essential for good health, even for human survival. There are even some situations in which omega-6 benefits can help you reach your health goals.
What Is an Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acid?
The most important thing to know about omega-6 essential fatty acids is that they are essential. Human life cannot continue without them, and they have to be obtained from food.
The omega-6 essential fatty acids are used by the body to make the hormones that promote inflammation.
Some Omega-6 Benefits
Sometimes a little inflammation is a good thing. Inflammatory processes activate the immune system.
They help the body make the stress hormones that give it extra energy in times of physical danger.
They prevent bleeding, and they modify brain activity to allow instincts to take over in times of crisis.
The problem with omega-6 essential fatty acids for most people in the modern world is that our diets provide too much of them.
Ideally, the diet should provide about twice as much of another kind of essential fatty acid, omega-3, to make the hormones that regulate the inflammatory compounds made with omega-6.
But the diet usually provides 30 to 60 times more omega-6 fatty acids than are needed for healthy balance. Nonetheless, some people benefit from omega-6 supplements.
Food Sources of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
The most common omega-6 essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, is abundant in oils pressed from safflower, grapeseed, hempseed, peanuts, wheat germ, soybeans, pistachios, and walnuts. In addition to the omega-6 oils, linoleic acid also found in chicken fat, eggs, lard, and butter. (Learn more about Food sources of Omega-6 )
There are actually people who suffer shortages of linoleic acid.
- Type 2 diabetics sometimes become more sensitive to insulin and better able to keep their blood sugar levels in good control when they eat more of the foods that are rich in omega-6's.
- Children with cystic fibrosis often grow taller and stronger when they get these foods.
- And people who have problems with contact dermatitis used to be told to eat more lard and corn oil-and old-fashioned food therapy that actually worked.
Is Omega-6 Bad for You?
Omega-6 To Omega-3: Are you getting the right balance?
There is not inherently harmful about omega-6 fatty acids. The problem is always maintaining the right balance between omega-6's and omega-3's.
If you do not have diabetes, cystic fibrosis, or contact dermatitis, then consider a low-fat diet with regular supplementation with fish oil or microalgae oil, both excellent sources of omega-3's.
If you have any of the conditions that respond to omega-6's, or if you are a competitive bodybuilder needing muscle inflammation to build muscle after workouts, then eat more omega-6 oils in food or take an omega-6 supplement.
It's important to know that the omega-6 fatty acid found in egg yolks, beef, bacon, sausages, and processed luncheon meats, arachidonic acid, counteracts the effects of many common medications.
If you are taking a COX-inhibitor for arthritis, for example, your medication works by stopping the conversion of arachidonic acid into inflammatory hormones. Eating foods that are high in arachidonic acid will counteract your medication.
Arachidonic acid also is involved in the biochemical processes that cause asthma attacks and the manic phase of bipolar disorder. Getting the omega-6 fatty acids your body needs without eating any beef, eggs, bacon, or cured pork products, that is, by taking high-quality omega-6 supplements, may make managing your condition much easier.
- Effect of linoleic acid intake on growth of infants with cystic fibrosis, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1996, vol. 63, no5, pp. 746-752.
- "Plant oils: Topical application and anti-inflammatory effects (croton oil test)". Dermatol. Monatsschr 179: 173. 1993.