Be Heart Healthy and Lose Weight!

Do I need to take omega 3 and omega 6 together?

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on May 31, 2008


A reader from The Heart of Health, Jessica, sent in a question about omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.  If you are struggling with weight loss, you should visit Jessica’s blog allabouthabits.com, for some weight loss motivation.  She openly shares her weight loss struggles.


The question:


About omega 3’s and 6’s, I heard that they should be taken together, and not just having one omega 3 or omega 6 alone. It has something to do with digestion and breakdown process. Is that right?


The answer:


There are two types of fatty acids – essential and non-essential.  The body can synthesize non-essential fatty acids, while the only way we get essential fatty acids is from what we eat.  Omega 3 and Omega 6 are both essential fatty acids – we must get them from foods and/or supplements.


Omega 3 – ALA, EPA, and DHA are all acronyms that represent omega 3 fatty acids.  If we consume ALA, our body will convert it to EPA and DHA.


Omega 6 – Omega 6 is also known as linoleic acid.  Linoleic acid is converted to GLA, another omega 6 fatty acid, in the body.  GLA and EPA (an omega 3 fatty acid) work together to promote bone and heart health. 


So, yes, omega 3 and omega 6 work together and both are needed for bodily functions.


But, omega 6 does not require supplementation.  The typical American diet is very high is omega 6 fatty acids.  A main source of omega 6 fatty acids is corn oil, which is very prevalent in our society.  Other sources include sunflower oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and pumpkin seeds.


The ideal ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids should be 1:1 or 4:1.  A typical diet in the U.S. is 11:1 to 30:1.  This poor ratio is linked with heart disease, among several other health issues. 


Certain conditions can interfere with the conversion of linoleic acid to GLA, such as advanced age, excess alcohol consumption, viral infections, and various other factors.  In these situations a GLA deficiency would be present and supplementing the GLA omega 6 fatty acid would be beneficial.  However, this is not the case for the majority.


To reduce heart disease risk you want to increase the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet and decrease omega 6’s.  Omega 3 is a common deficiency in the U.S.



Bottom line:


Omega 3 and omega 6 are both essential fatty acids and work together to promote health.  However, if you follow a typical U.S. diet, you want to increase your omega 3 intake and decrease your omega 6 intake.  Therefore, supplementing omega 3 AND omega 6 is not beneficial.   


I hope my answer has not confused you more!  I will be publishing at least two more articles this summer related to fatty acids.  If you have a question, send it to me at RD@eNutritionServices.com.


13 Responses to “Do I need to take omega 3 and omega 6 together?”

  1. Tie1 said

    I love your comments on the American diet in regards to the EVERYTHING being overloaded with Omega-6s. However, I must clarify your comment – “If we consume ALA, our body will convert it to EPA and DHA.”

    Did you realize that your body can only convert <1% of the ALA from plants to EPA & DHA? The primary source for Omega-3 for DHA & EPA MUST be fish! There are some really great studies done on this and easily accessible.

  2. Thanks for the feedback and glad you agree with most of the information.

    I have read the studies on ALA conversion also and there appears to be some vairance on what percent is actually converted. From the data I have read, the general conversion from ALA to EPA is ~15% and then on to DHA ~5%.

    This conversion rate is further slowed by diets high in omega 6 fatty acids. All the more reason to attain a ratio of at least 4:1 between omega 6 and omega 3! I agree, fish is the best bet for increasing EPA and DHA levels.

  3. jp1999 said

    Great article. Thanks for the info.

  4. Mike said

    Are you able to share those studies you reference? The idea of having everyone incease their fish consumption is not a “sustainable” practice. I’m very interested in how we can increase our omega-3s without taking suppliments and just eating fish.

  5. Hi Mike,

    There are plenty of sources of omega 3 fatty acids besides fish. I agree, not everyone likes fish and there are heart health benefits from simply improving your ratio of OMEGA 3’s to omega 6’s, not just DHA. I recommend subscribing to The Heart of Health, I am going to resend my latest issue to new subscribers Sunday (June 8th). The latest issue includes an article – Get a Grip on Fatty Acids – listing omega 3 sources, such as flax, canola oil, and walnuts. You can subscribe at http://www.eNutritionServices.com.

  6. This topic is quite hot in the net right now. What do you pay attention to while choosing what to write ?

  7. I keep my eyes open to just about everything. Such as hot topics being discussed online, recent research findings via scientific journals, maybe something interesting in a resource book I read, etc. Fortunately, there always seem to be plenty of topics to choose from when it comes to heart health and weight loss!

    All the best,
    Lisa Nelson RD

  8. cindy said

    womens world newest diet calls for a 2 tsp safflowwer oil ever day. thts alot of fat

  9. Great, thanks, i will buy some omega 6 too.

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