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Decoding Omegas: O-6

Through research, we’ve learned that North American people today get about 10 to 25 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3. Working towards a balance of these will allow our bodies to reap the most benefit from the combined essential fatty acids.

This matters for mental health, says Joe Hibbeln, M.D., Acting Chief, Section on Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, because omega-3s alter brain chemicals linked with mood; they also regulate more than 100 genes involved in transmitting messages between brain cells. Finally, omega-3s soothe the inflammation known to play a role in conditions ranging from heart disease to dementia, while omega-6 fats transform into molecules that increase inflammation. (Eating Well, 2010)

Now that we know more about what Omega-3’s are, let’s discover what Omega-6’s are, where they come from, and how they affect our bodies.


Like O-3, O-6 is an essential fatty acid that is classified as a polyunsaturated fat. It too is not produced by the body. For this reason, people must obtain O-6 by eating foods such as meat, poultry and eggs as well as nut and plant-based oils, such as canola and sunflower oils.

There are 3 types of Omega-6 fatty acids. They are LA, GLA, and AA.

  • Linoleic acid (LA) is found in soybean, sunflower, corn, peanut and safflower oils. Most O-6 fatty acids are consumed in the diet from vegetable oils. Excessive amounts of LA can contribute to inflammation which can result in heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis and depression.
  • Arachidonic acid (AA) is found in red meat, poultry, and eggs.
  • Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is infrequently consumed in the form of vegetable oils, such as evening primrose oil; mostly found in nutritional supplements.

We do know that the majority of the money Americans currently spend on food is for processed foods (nearly 90% !!). Many of the oils and fats classified at O-6 are so processed and often times genetically modified that they are nearly unrecognizable and offer little to no nutritional value. A balance between plant and animal based fats is my formula. For others, its important to take a personal inventory weighing lifestyle choices, family health history, and availability of foods. Its difficult even for experts to agree on a good ratio for O-6 : O-3. A general consensus between dietitians and many health based organizations tells us that we will benefit most from a 1:1 to 5:1 ratio.

Try: Sprinkle wheat germ on your almond buttered toast in the morning.

Try: For a mid morning snack or light lunch, make a protein packed hummus (O-3 and tons of protein) with a handful of walnuts (O-6) smoked salmon (O-3) on a whole grain pita.

Try: A black bean (or add grilled chicken or salmon) tostada with avocado and a splash of olive oil (O-3). Make your own corn tortillas for even better flavor and control of ingredients (O-6).

Taylor Ellen Kearns


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