You Know What Omega-3s Are – But What About Omega-6s?

Today I’m featuring an article by Guest Author Nicole Ross Rollender. Her bio is at the bottom of the page. She’s written an excellent post about Omega-3s and Omega-6s and how important they are for our bodies. When you live with Chronic Pain, you know you need to do everything possible to maintain your overall health, and diet can play a part in that. Read on to see what Nicole has to say:

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No doubt you’ve gotten the skinny on good fats (hello, omega-3) from your primary care doctor or nutritionist.

You’ve probably heard this before: Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are found in fish oils from salmon, krill, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines, along with oysters and crabs.

Clinical evidence suggests omega-3s like EPA and DHA help reduce risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

You’ll find other omega-3s like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in flaxseed, oils like canola and soybean, and nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 For Your Good Health

Along with omega-3s, omega-6 fatty acids play a vital role in brain function, and our normal growth and development. 

Bottom line: Your body needs fatty acids to function, and they pack some major health benefits.

However, not as many people have heard of omega-6s. Here’s what you need to know to ensure you’re getting enough (but not too much) of this important fat in your diet.

What Are PUFAs?

Here’s a quick chemistry lesson: Like omega-3, omega-6 is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), a fat molecule containing more than one unsaturated carbon bond. For example, oils (like olive oil) that contain polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but start to turn solid when chilled, according to the American Heart Association.

“Omega-6s are essential for a whole host of things: proper brain function, stimulating hair and skin growth, maintaining bone health, promoting normal growth and development, regulating metabolism, and maintaining a healthy reproductive system,” says Laura Ligos, MBA, RDN, CSSD, a Real Food registered dietitian at Albany, NY-based The Sassy Dietitian & Designed to Fit Nutrition.

PUFAs offer heart-health benefits when you eat them in moderation and use them to replace unhealthy saturated and trans fats in your diet, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There are saturated fats in animal-based foods, such as meats, poultry, lard, egg yolks and whole-fat dairy products like butter and cheese. They’re also in cocoa butter, and coconut, palm and other tropical oils used in coffee creamers and other processed foods.

Trans fats, also called hydrogenated and vegetable oils, are in hardened vegetable fats like stick butter – and make their way into crackers, cookies, cakes, candies, snack foods and French fries.

A good rule of thumb is to reduce foods high in saturated and trans fats in your diet. Instead, choose foods that include plenty of PUFAs – but don’t go overboard.

All fats, even good ones, are high in calories – they’re nine calories per gram.

The Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio

Humans evolved on a diet balanced in omega-6 and omega-3 (1:1 ratio) essential fatty acids, according to the journal Nutrients. Today, though, the ratio for many people is a staggering 20:1, contributing to weight gain and other health issues.

“The ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 in our bodies should stay between 2:1 and 3:1,” Ligos says. “You’re heading into dangerous territory when your omega-6/omega-3 ratio is greater than 4:1.”

Both a high omega-6/omega-3 ratio and a high omega-6 fatty acid intake contribute to weight gain, whereas a high omega-3 fatty acid intake decreases your risk for weight gain, according to Nutrients.

In addition, when your omega-6/omega-3 ratios are out of balance, you’re at higher risk for cardiac issues, according to the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology

“When there isn’t enough omega-6 in your diet, essential fatty acid deficiency can occur, leading to excessive thirst and skin lesions, as well as more serious issues like stunted growth, skin lesions, a fatty liver, and reproductive issues or failure,” Ligos says.

Conversely, too much omega-6 (and not enough omega-3) can cause inflammatory conditions including heart disease, elevated blood pressure, diabetic neuropathy, autoimmune conditions and more, Ligos notes.

Not all omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation though, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Linolenic acid, often found in vegetable oils, is converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in the body. GLA is also found in plant-based oils like evening primrose oil, borage oil and black currant seed oil.

“There’s research to support taking a GLA supplement, an omega-6 fatty acid, to reduce inflammation, much unlike all other omega-6 fatty acids,” Ligos says.

The body converts GLA to DGLA, which fights inflammatory conditions, and having enough other nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3 and B6, promotes that conversion, the University of Maryland Medical Center says.

Where to Get Your Omega-6

The good news is most of us can get the right amount of omega-6 from a healthy diet alone.

“Omega-6 fatty acids are found primarily in vegetable and plant oils, including safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, corn, cottonseed, peanut, sesame, soybean and canola,” Ligos says.

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At one time, researchers believed omega-6 fatty acids metabolized in the body to then inflame and damage artery linings, which could lead to heart disease.

After reviewing the findings, the American Heart Association recommended people eat between 5% and 10% of their daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids.

It’s a good idea to replace saturated fats from foods like meat, butter, cheese and deserts with plant-based foods containing omega-6 fatty acids, including vegetables oils, nuts and seeds is a good first step.

Flaxseed and hempseed oil, nuts, borage oil, evening primrose oil and black currant seed oil, and acai are other healthy sources of omega-6.

About The Author:

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Nicole Rollender is a South New Jersey-based editor and writer. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Dr. Oz The Good Life, Woman’s Day and Cosmopolitan. She’s the author of the poetry collection Louder Than Everything You Love. Recently, she was named a Rising Star in FOLIO’s Top Women in Media awards and is a 2017 recipient of a New Jersey Council on the Arts poetry fellowship. Visit her online at www.strandwritingservices.com; on Facebook or Twitter.

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3 thoughts on “You Know What Omega-3s Are – But What About Omega-6s?

  1. This is a great guest post as Omega 6s get so little coverage when overshadowed by the big sister, Omega 3. I knew a bit but not much more than the basics, and this has given me a kick up the bum to go back to taking Omega 3 (stopped quite some time ago stupidly) and add Omega 6. It’s a good point about getting the balance right and the potential for actually having too much, too. Thanks for sharing this!!
    Caz xx

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