by Brooke Douglas RD
Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: They are necessary for human health but the body can’t make them — you have to get them through food. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), Omega 6 fats help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.
A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation (very good- see The Anti-Aging Anti-inflammatory Diet), and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation (not good). Unfortunately, the typical American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. The Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids and Omega 9 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.
However it is good to keep in mind that there are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids, and NOT ALL promote inflammation. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet come from vegetable oils as linoleic acid (LA). Be careful not to confuse this with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Linoleic acid (LA) is converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in the body (GLA is found in several plant-based oils including evening primrose oil (EPO), borage oil, and black currant seed oil.)
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) may reduce inflammation. Much of the GLA taken as a supplement is converted to a substance called DGLA that fights inflammation. Having enough of certain nutrients in the body (including magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6) helps promote the conversion of GLA to DGLA.
For general health, there should be a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio should be in the range of 2:1 – 4:1, omega-6 to omega-3. The average diet provides plenty of omega-6 fatty acids, so supplements are definitely not necessary. Conversely supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids is considered by most to be a wise decision.
You can find Brooke Douglas at Nutrition Authority for personal nutrition advice.
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