In recent years, scientific experts, healthcare practitioners, and in turn, just us regular folk, are paying greater attention to the benefits of the “good” fats. We say “good” because not all fats are created equal. In fact, fats that fall into the categories of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are now deemed a healthy—or a must, if you want our opinion—inclusion in our daily diets. (It’s the trans fats that you want to avoid and the saturated fats that you want to limit.)

Omega-3s and omega-6s are among those polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) that are considered essential to our bodies’ ability to function, and what’s more, they have added value for your health. Omega-3s are more popular and their benefits are better known, but whether you’re aware of omega-6s or not, chances are you’re getting omega-6s from a lot of the foods you eat.

Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fats that play a crucial role in our overall health. And both have roles related to inflammation. But what you may not know is that these two fats are flip sides of the coin and if you’re wanting benefits from both of them, it’s best to consume them in a balanced ratio, which we’ll get to.

BLOG: Is Omega-6 Good for You?

That’s because one (omega-3) is an anti-inflammatory nutrient, the other (omega-6s) is mostly a pro-inflammatory nutrient. In other words, if you’re not careful, your body could end up in a war with itself. When it comes to the Western diet, we tend to overdo on our omega-6s and under-eat our omega-3s, with Americans consuming on average 10 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, according to this post.

And while your immediate instinct might be to get rid of the one that leads to more inflammation, we’re here to tell you that both omega-3s and omega-6s have important health benefits. You don’t need to ditch your omega-6s and we’re about to tell you why.

In today’s blog we’ll explain how these two beneficial omega PUFAs can not only peacefully co-exist in our bodies, but how ensuring your body has the right ratio between the two can lead to a more healthful existence, helping ensure that you reap the many potential benefits of both.

 

What are Omega-3s?

Omega-3s are lifelong nutrients, meaning that they’re beneficial at every stage of your life, from fetus to infant, and from child to adult. Science shows they may have a positive impact on your heart, your eyes, your brain, your mood and your sleep. And that’s just some of the areas where omega-3s come into play.

They’re also considered “essential” nutrients because your body doesn’t produce omega-3s on its own, or at least not enough to help you function; therefore, you need to get your omega-3s from your diet, either from conventional food, fortified food or dietary supplements.

The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The latter is a great option for vegetarians as it’s found in plants, while EPA and DHA are marine-sourced (e.g., think fatty fish).

 

What are Omega-6s?

Omega-6s come with their own set of benefits, although they have many in common with their omega-3 cousins. And like omega-3s, your body doesn’t produce them on its own.

Omega-6 fatty acids are mostly found in plant oils, nuts and seeds. According to this article, omega-6 PUFAs are needed for brain function and normal growth and development. What’s more, they help regulate metabolism, stimulate skin and hair growth and maintain bone health and the reproductive system.

BLOG: Get the Facts on Omega-6, Palmitic Acid, Trans Fats, and More

They’re also thought to lower the “bad” cholesterol—LDL, while also improving your HDL, commonly referred to as the “good” cholesterol. When it comes to blood sugar concerns, omega-6s are helpful in bettering your body’s sensitivity to insulin.

There are several types of omega-6 fatty acids, with the most common being linoleic acid (LA). In your body, LA is metabolized to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). And here’s some good news: the omega-6 GLA may reduce inflammation once it is converted to another omega-6, Dihomo-y-linolenic acid (DGLA).

 

What are the Major Differences Between Omega-3 and Omega-6?

On the other hand, omega-6 LA morphs into yet another omega-6 fatty acid, this one known as arachidonic acid (AA), which is how it’s gotten its reputation as a pro-inflammation anti-hero. But even AA is not all bad. As this article explains, “AA is a building block for molecules that can promote inflammation, blood clotting, and the constriction of blood vessels. But the body also converts arachidonic acid into molecules that calm inflammation and fight blood clots.”

To be clear, some inflammation in your body is good, in fact, necessary. After all, it’s inflammatory chemical-soldiers that help you deal with acute inflammation (short-term infections, in-the-moment stressors, short-lived dangers). However, chronic inflammation, which occurs when you have too much long-term inflammation, is what you want to avoid as this long-term condition creates fertile ground for serious illness such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

If you’re confused at this point, just know there is a solution. Rather than cutting back on your omega-6s, balance them by adding more omega-3s to your diet. It’s all about the ratio.

VIDEO: OmegaMatters: Episode 23 – Demystifying Omega-6

 

What is the Omega-6:Omega-3 Ratio?

Before we go there, you need to know about the Omega-3 Index, a test developed by OmegaQuant founder, William S. Harris, Ph.D., and other scientists, that measures the amount of omega-3 EPA and DHA in red blood cell membranes as a percentage of total fatty acids.

This standard is used worldwide in scientific protocols for researching omega-3s, by measuring omega-3 EPA and DHA status. = In addition, the Omega-3 Index is at the heart of OmegaQuant’s at-home, self-tests used to advise individuals as to whether they are successfully getting (and maintaining) enough omega-3s in their diet.

And if they’re not, it’s generally recommended to add more omega-3 EPA and DHA to the diet, first through food, but with supplements as an option.

In order for your omega-3 EPA and DHA status to be considered sufficient to optimal, your test results should fall in the 8-12% range. Learn more here, here and here.

So, this is where it gets even more interesting. We’re going to talk about the Omega-6:Omega 3 ratio, a test which OmegaQuant offers to help ensure you maintain the right balance between the two.

This test involves a simple prick of the finger, just like the Omega-3 Index, but unlike the Omega-3 Index, it’s measured from your whole blood as opposed to from red blood cell membranes. But you don’t need to get hung up on that, because we have an at-home, self-test package that makes it easy for you. The package, known as the Omega-3 Index Plus Report, four types of analysis, all inter-related, and a corresponding report with results and suggestions that you can discuss with your doctor.

Here are the four tests: your Omega-3 Index, your Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio, your omega-6 arachidonic (AA):omega-3 EPA ratio, and a Trans Fat Index report.

The Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is calculated by dividing the sum of seven omega-6 fatty acids by the sum of the four omega-3 fatty acids found in whole blood. The desirable range from the test for the Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is 3:1 – 5:1. The desirable range for the AA:EPA ratio is 2.5:1 – 11:1.

You’ll recall earlier in the blog, we talked about omega-6 AA acting as a proinflammatory agent and how you can counter that effect by adding more omega-3 EPA and DHA into your diet. As the National Institutes of Health   advises, “Most [researchers] agree that raising EPA and DHA blood levels is far more important than lowering linoleic acid or arachidonic acid levels.”

However, as we like to say, you don’t know whether to add or reduce nutrients from your diet until you know what your numbers tell you. Learn more about the Omega-3 Index Report here and see a sample report here.

VIDEO: What Your Omega-6:Omega-3 Ratio Report Means

 

Finding Your Omega-3s in Food: Six Foods You’ll Want in Your Life 

Fish, specifically oily fish, represent the richest source of omega-3 EPA and DHA. Here are six of the most DHA- and EPA-plentiful fish options, according to the National Institutes of Health. The amounts of DHA and EPA listed are based on a cooked (unless otherwise noted) 3-ounce (oz) serving size:

  1. Atlantic salmon, farmed or wild, respectively—1.24 grams (g) or 1.22 g DHA and 0.59 g or 0.35 g EPA
  2. Atlantic herring—0.94 g DHA and 0.77 g EPA
  3. Sardines (canned in tomato sauce, drained, not cooked)—0.74 g DHA and 0.45 g EPA
  4. Atlantic mackerel—0.59 g DHA and 0.43 g EPA
  5. Rainbow trout, wild—0.44 g DHA and 0.40 g EPA
  6. Oysters (eastern), wild—0.23 g DHA and 0.30 g EPA

For more ways to get your omega-3 EPA and DHA from food, click here and scroll down. Vegans and vegetarians, you can get your omega-3s from plant-based sources, but the form will be alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Your body will convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but not at an efficient rate. Read more here.

VIDEO: Looking Deeper at the Omega-6 Linoleic Acid

 

Finding Your Omega-6s in Food: Another Six Foods Your Body Will Want

Remember that we’re more likely to eat foods, sometimes mindlessly, that are rich with omega-6 PUFAs than we are to eat omega-3 EPA and DHA foods, perhaps because there are people who don’t like fish, but also because it’s easy to add a lot of salad dressing or oils or grab handfuls of walnuts.

In this case, it’s probably unlikely that you need to add more of these foods as they’re plentiful in the diet already, but rather be aware that you’re likely consuming them. Remember to balance them with omega-3s EPA and DHA, so you’ll be on the road to the right ratio of Omega-6:Omega 3. This list from Healthline shares some of the richest sources of omega-6s with their linoleic acid content revealed:

  1. Walnuts—10,800 mg (of linoleic acid) per 28 g (1 oz) of walnuts
  2. Safflower oil—1,730 mg (of linoleic acid) per 14 g (1 tablespoon) of safflower oil
  3. Tofu—4,970 mg (of linoleic acid) per 100 g (3.5 oz) of tofu
  4. Hemp seeds—27,500 mg (of linoleic acid) per 100 g (3.5 oz) of hemp seeds
  5. Sunflower seeds—10,600 mg (of linoleic acid) per 28 g (1 oz) of sunflower seeds
  6. Peanut butter—12,300 mg (of linoleic acid) per 100 g (3.5 oz) of creamy peanut butter

Healthline also advises that “to ensure a proper ratio, eat omega-6-rich foods in moderation and pair them with a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids from foods like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.”

Bottom Line: Getting the right amount of omega-3s and omega-6s in your diet can help ensure that you’re reaping benefits from both of these essential nutrients. To help ensure you’re driving the right route to a proper ratio between the two, it’s a smart idea to test to be sure your Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is on point.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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