Omega-3 vs Omega-6: The Guide

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

The debate over omega-3 vs omega-6 fatty acids remains a topic of interest in nutritional circles as our dietary habits continue to evolve.

Omega-3 vs Omega-6

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are closely related but have very different effects on the body.

Types

  • Omega-3 comes in 3 types – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in vegetable oils, while EPA and DHA are found in marine oils (e.g., fatty fish).
  • Omega-6 comes in 11 different types, the main ones being linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, and calendric acid, among others.

Benefits

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are able to reduce inflammation, diabetes, and bone mineral density loss. They can also help with anxiety and various chronic diseases.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are necessary for proper brain function. They can also help treat rheumatoid arthritis and minimize symptoms of ADHD.
A picture collage of omega 3 and omega 6 foods

Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ratio

  • An appropriate ratio of these two fats is 1:1, but in modern times, that ratio is often skewed to as high as 10:1 (omega-6: omega-3, respectively).
  • Balancing these fats is essential for overall health and to prevent inflammation, as omega-6 can be pro-inflammatory.
  • A balanced ratio ensures that your body’s enzymes are evenly distributed to metabolize both types of fats.

Food Sources

Risks

  • Modern diets tend to have far more omega-6 than omega-3 in your diet, which can lead to cardiovascular problems.
  • People with conditions like diabetes, psoriasis, eczema or arthritis should be cautious when consuming too much omega-6.

Which is better?

Having an even blend of these two fats is ideal, but generally speaking, omega-3 fatty acids have more positive effects on the body. According to a 2019 study in The British Medical Journalincreasing omega-3, omega-6, or total PUFA has no effect on the management and treatment of type 2-diabetes.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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