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Omega-6 Vs. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 Vs. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 and omega-3 are essential fatty acids that are essential for the healthy functioning of the human body. The following article compares them against various parameters.
Ashwini Kulkarni Sule
Omega-3 and omega-6 are a group of fatty acids, which cannot be synthesized by the body, and these have to be taken through diet or supplements. Since these fatty acids are extremely beneficial for the body, they are rightly called the essential fatty acids. There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the benefits of these two, at various levels. Some people do not know which of them is more beneficial than the other, and they end up taking all wrong supplements, which does more harm to the body than any good.

Omega-6 Vs. Omega-3

Fats are classified as saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Consuming saturated and monounsaturated fats increases the risk of heart diseases. However, both omega-3 and omega-6 belong to the class of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They differ from each other in their chemical structure and the food sources from which they can be derived.

Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3
Ideally, human body should get equal amount of both these essential fatty acids. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 as 1:1. While the ratio of 1:1 is perfect, the ratio of 4:1 is also considered healthy. However, within last few years, our eating habits have undergone a sea change and fried, fatty, and refined foods have become a part of our daily diet. Since, vegetable oil is the main source of omega-6 fatty acids, our consumption of this fatty acid has increased considerably. As a result, the ratio has increased to 10:1 - 20:1. In the United States, this ratio is 39:1 owing to high consumption of omega-6 food sources. Japan is the only nation in the world that has maintained the ideal ratio of 4:1. As a result, Japanese are considered as the most healthy people, in spite of their very high smoking rate.

Food Sources
As mentioned above, omega-6 is found in vegetable oil. Foods containing this fatty acid are:
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Flax seeds
  • Flaxseed meal
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Hemp seeds
  • Grape seed oil
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachio nuts
  • Sunflower seeds (raw)
  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Borage oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Black currant seed oil
  • Chestnut oil
  • Chicken
Omega-3 is found in foods such as vegetables and fish. Omega-3 containing foods include:
  • Flax seed oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Canola oil
  • Walnuts
  • Dairy products
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Lake trout
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Albacore tuna
Risks and Benefits
Both these fatty acids have several health benefits for the human body. Omega-6 primarily helps in reducing the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, and skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. It also assists in cancer treatment. On the other hand, omega-3, which is present in fish oil, helps in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. It reduces the risk of heart attack and significantly lowers hypertension. It also decreases the risk of acquiring viral infections. It has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help in the treatment of certain allergic conditions. However, to avail the benefits of these nutrient, it is important to maintain the ratio of these fatty acids.

Excessive consumption of omega-6 and inadequate consumption of omega-3 makes a person prone to heart diseases. Excess of omega-6 constricts the arteries and poses a threat to the heart. An increased intake of omega-3 may also result in some side effects, which include nausea, bloating, abdominal gas, constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, and occasional nosebleeds. Due to its blood-thinning property, it is not recommended to take its supplements with other blood thinners like aspirin. Thus, for a healthy life proper balance between the two fatty acids should be maintained.