We've talked about the importance of Omega-3's for our overall health and cell function, but regardless of the Omega-3's you are taking in, you could be reducing it's effectiveness with the amount of Omega-6's you are ingesting.
Previously mentioned, there are three Omega-3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). ALA is found in plant sources and we use ALA to convert into EPA and then DHA in our bodies, the DHA being the most crucial for us. We can get the EPA and DHA through seaweed and algae plant base, but more commonly we take fish oil supplements or eat the fish ourselves, which have eaten the seaweed and algae. (Please refer to our previous post on Omega-3 quality with food and supplementation.)
Omega-6 is another essential fatty acid, like ALA, that the body cannot produce itself, so we must have it in our diet. Omega-6 fatty acids work with the Omega-3's in balance to optimize normal growth and brain function. According to the University of Maryland, "Omega-6s help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system."
The problem with our modern diets, is that Omega-6's can be pro-inflammatory, especially in cases where the Omega-6:3 balance is off. These two substances will compete for the same metabolic enzymes. If there is too much Omega-6 in the body, Omega-3's will not be able to compete for the spots it needs and you will lose the potential beneficial effect. No matter the amount of Omega-3's you are taking in food or supplement, if you are taking in too much Omega-6, you will be creating a pro-inflammatory environment.
So what's the ratio? The healthy range has been recorded to be about Omega-6:3 at a 1:1 to 1:4 ratio. Meaning, equal or more Omega 3's in the diet. Unfortunately our typical western diet has been recorded at a ratio of 10:1 to 30:1.
Omega-6 can be healthy remember, but it's about quality, not quantity with this fatty acid. Avoiding foods high in Omega-6 content can be helpful, but very difficult. Some of the higher culprits are sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils which are commonly used in processed foods. Our typical western diet contains an immense amount of processed foods. There are better quality Omega-6's to be eaten in moderation: olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil. Certain nuts like Pine nuts, Walnuts, Brazil nuts (high in Selenium too!), Pecans, Almonds, and Pistachios all have higher Omega-6 content and will be a much better source than something overly processed that is boxed or bagged.
The bottom line is that you probably don't have to worry if you're getting enough Omega-6 or not. The real worry is if you are getting good quality Omega-6 and not too much to counteract the benefits you should see with your Omega-3 intake. Cutting out the processed food is a plus in this case and for every other health condition as well.
It's all about quality!