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

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.

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.

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD
Be Heart Healthy and Lose Weight