Omega-3s and omega-6s are known as essential fatty acids (EFAs). The word “essential” indicates that our bodies cannot produce these polyunsaturated fats; therefore, they must be obtained from the diet. Both of these fatty acids provide multiple health benefits, but having a correct balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty is key.
Generally speaking, an excess of omega-6 is considered pro-inflammatory, while omega-3’s are considered anti-inflammatory.
The Standard American Diet Compared to Ancestral Diets
With the advent of industrialization came processed food, which is now a staple of the standard American diet. The replacement of animal fats with processed oils have greatly increased the consumption of omega-6s. It is believed that our ancestors consumed a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 close to 1:1, while today that ratio is closer to 20:1.(1)
Most experts now agree that the ideal ratio ranges from 1:1 – 4:1.(1-2)
Omega-3 fatty acids benefit muscle activity, blood clotting, triglyceride/cholesterol levels, digestion, fertility, brain health, cell division and growth, serve as building blocks for cell function, gene expression, and inflammatory processes.(3-5)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) provides anti-inflammatory benefits and is beneficial for brain health and nervous system function.(4-5)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is beneficial in reducing cellular inflammation.(4-5)
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – is a plant-derived precursor to EPA and DHA. ALA has a very low conversion rate; therefore, it can be more efficient to obtain omega-3s in the form of DHA/EPA.(5) ALA provides cardiovascular protective benefits, control of inflammation, and a positive impact on the central nervous system and behavior.(6)
Omega-3 food sources include:
Seafood (i.e. mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, caviar)
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds
Grass-fed dairy products
Small quantities in some vegetables (i.e. seaweed, algae).
Even though omega-6s are over-consumed in the American diet, there are some limited benefits if consumed in the correct form and ratio. Omega-6 in the form of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) has health benefits because it is metabolized differently. It has been shown beneficial in reducing inflammation, nerve pain, arthritis, allergies, skin disorders, ADHD, high blood pressure, the risk of CDV disease, PMS, obesity, and osteoporosis.(7)
Omega-6 GLA food sources include plant seed oils such as evening primrose, hemp, black currant, and borage.
Eating fish 2-3 times per week and decreasing the intake of store-bought salad dressings, margarine, baked goods, and fried foods is a great way to begin shifting your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio!
About the Author: Cari Verde earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in August 2018. She is passionate about optimizing nutrition and wellness, as well as helping to identify and correct nutritionally related root causes of dysfunction within the body. She is an Army veteran as well as a military wife. She is currently earning clinical hours towards the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross’s supervision and has already passed the rigorous CNS exam.
1. Simopoulos AP. An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):128. 2016 Mar 2. doi:10.3390/nu8030128
2. Patterson E, Wall R, Fitzgerald GF, Ross RP, Stanton C. Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated Fatty acids. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:539426.
3. Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Website. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm. Accessed February 27, 2019
4. What are the Real Differences Between EPA and DHA? Psychology Today Website. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-zone/201204/what-are-the-real-differences-between-epa-and-dha. Accessed February 27, 2019
5. Differentiation of ALA From DHA+EPA as Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Human Health. DHA EPA Omega-E Institute. http://www.dhaomega3.org/Overview/Differentiation-of-ALA-plant-sources-from-DHA-+-EPA-marine-sources-as-Dietary-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids-for-Human-Health. Accessed February 27, 2019
6. Blondeau N, Lipsky RH, Bourourou M, Duncan MW, Gorelick PB, Marini AM. Alpha-linolenic acid: an omega-3 fatty acid with neuroprotective properties-ready for use in the stroke clinic?. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:519830.
7. Gamma-linolenic acid. Pen State Hershey Militon S. Hershey Medical Center. http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=107&pid=33&gid=000305. Accessed February 27, 2019
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