Omega-6 fatty acids are a controversial topic in regard to their nutritional value. However, are Omega-6s bad for you? Many nutritionists once believed Omega-6 caused inflammation and increased your risk of heart disease. Yet, none of the other fatty acids have inflammatory properties.
New research debunks the theory that omega-6s increase the risk of heart disease. In fact, the same study suggests that omega-6 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.1 That’s excellent news.
Omega-6 fatty acids have a plethora of benefits. As a polyunsaturated fat, omega 6s promotes the growth of skin cells and hair, supports bone health and reproductive system health, and regulates your metabolism. I’ll talk more in detail about omega-6 benefits in just a bit. I will also tell you about the different types of omega fatty acids, the proper ratio between omega 6s and omega 3s, and my go-to solution for getting omega-6 fatty acids. Before we get into everything, let’s answer the question: Are omega-6s bad for you?
Are Omega-6s Bad?
There are three omega fatty acids– omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. All three are important dietary fats that boast many health benefits. Yet, the balance among them is crucial because an imbalance may contribute to several chronic illnesses, including autoimmune disease and heart disease.
As a dietary fat, omega-6 fatty acids provide energy, aid in nutrient absorption, and support healthy cholesterol levels. Omega-6s are polyunsaturated fat your body does not naturally produce, and the only way to get omega-6 fatty acids is through your food.
Omega-6s, including those from grass-fed meats, ghee, and flaxseed, can be healthy, and they can also lead to inflammation, so it’s essential to limit both the quantity and the ratio to Omega-3s. I’ll touch on that more below.
Omega-6 fatty acids primarily provide energy to your cells, yet they also promote a healthy metabolism. The most common omega-6 fatty acid is linoleic acid, which supports lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
So, are omega-6s bad for you? The short answer is no. However, as I mentioned earlier, the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s is crucial. Let’s talk about what’s a good ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s.
What is a Good Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio?
Your body converts linoleic acid into longer omega-6 fatty acid chains such as arachidonic acid (AA).2 As with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) found in omega-3 fatty acid chains, AA produces eicosanoids, a molecule derived from 20-carbon polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The difference is that the eicosanoids produced from the oxidation of AA are pro-inflammatory. So what does this mean?
A diet high in Omega-6 and low in Omega-3 increases inflammation and the presence of inflammatory diseases such as heart disease and autoimmunity. Chronic inflammation keeps your immune system on high alert and increases your risk of autoimmune disease. A diet rich in Omega-3 and low in Omega-6 reduces inflammation, yet a deficiency in omega-6s can cause dry skin, brittle nails, increased risk of infection, and poor wound healing.3 So, what is a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio? A healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio today is somewhere between 1-to-1 to 4-to-1.4
Before the industrial age, hunter-gatherers that consumed land animals like buffalo and cows had omega-6 to omega-3 ratios of 2:1 or 4:1. However, our ancestors that mainly ate wild-caught seafood had a ratio of 1:4.5
As we’ve evolved, the ratio today is 16:1. That makes sense due to the prevalence of large amounts of industrialized oils in the Standard American-Diet. Vegetable and seed oils didn’t exist until about 100 years ago, and our bodies have not evolved to adapt to these higher amounts. Vegetable and seed oils are the most common source of omega-6 fatty acids. Let’s look at some others.
Where do Omega-6s Come From?
The source of omega-6 fatty acids is essential to maintaining a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. The easiest way to reduce your omega-6 intake is by avoiding highly processed foods and oils high in omega-6.
Soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oils have a high concentration of omega-6s and are inflammatory. I recommend that you avoid these oils. Cottonseed oil, which is increasingly common, is made from a waste product of cotton fiber farming and isn’t even grown as a food crop. It is highly processed and contains pesticides and GMOs.
Instead, swap out these oils for healthier fats such as unsaturated fats such as olive oil or avocado oil. There are two types of healthy unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which, as I mentioned above, are sources of omega-6 fatty acids.
Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil. Other sources include avocados, nut butter (except peanut butter), and nuts and seeds.
One quick note about safflower oil. Safflower oil is 90% linoleic acid and oleic acid, which are unsaturated fats, making it a “healthy fat.” However, because of high concentrations of omega-6 and refined fats, it is not autoimmune protocol compliant and can cause inflammation.
If you are in the first part of The Myers Way®, avoid nuts altogether. You can reintroduce and see how you react during the reintroduction phase.
The Best Source of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
The most common omega-6 fatty acid is linoleic acid. Due to significant stressors, I recently gained weight for the first time in my life. In addition to finding ways to destress and adjusting my diet, I looked for the nutrients I knew I must be missing to encourage fat-burning and weight loss. That’s when I discovered conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
Linoleic acid is in many industrial fats such as butter, margarine, or ghee. Remember, industrialized vegetable and seed oils are highly inflammatory and can increase your risk of heart disease. You might wonder why I’d recommend CLA if linoleic acid is bad for you. Well, CLA is different than regular linoleic acid.
The term conjugated has to do with the double bonds in natural trans fats. So think of it this way. CLA is naturally occurring while linoleic acid is manufactured. The best foods for conjugated linoleic acid include meat and dairy from cows, goats, and sheep. It can be tricky to get enough because everyone should give up dairy. When I was a vegetarian, I realized that dairy, as well as grains and legumes, was a significant contributor to my leaky gut and resulting health issues.
Meat is a typical source of CLA. However, there is no way to know how much CLA is in the meat you eat because it varies greatly depending on farming techniques, and it can be nearly impossible to get enough from diet alone. For example, the conjugated linoleic acid content is 300-500% higher in beef from grass-fed cows rather than grain-fed.
Even if you eat grass-fed beef, getting enough CLA from your diet is nearly impossible. Consider that the average daily consumption is 151 milligrams for women and 212 mg for men. You should consume at least 3,000 mg, or 3 grams, of CLA daily to get all of its benefits, and that’s not feasible. I’ll tell you how to ensure you’re getting enough conjugated linoleic acid in your diet in a second. First, let’s discuss the benefits of omega-6 fatty acids and CLA.
Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
More studies are being conducted on conjugated linoleic acid, which is a healthy source of omega-6s. Notably, one study found that CLA helps regulate blood glucose levels. CLA also helps facilitate fat metabolism, which helps your body utilize food for energy.
Omega-6s Facilitates Fat Metabolism
This is by far its most known benefit. Clinical evidence shows linoleic acid helps modulate the metabolism of fat. CLA supports healthy levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream — in other words, it blocks your body from building fat stores. By increasing fat metabolism, CLA increases calorie burn throughout the day and your body’s ability to efficiently utilize energy
Omega-6s Regulates Blood Glucose Levels
Another popular benefit of CLA is that it regulates blood glucose levels. In one study, it was found that high levels of CLA lowered leptin, a hormone that plays a role in obesity, a risk-factor to type 2 diabetes. However, there are conflicting studies with CLA’s effect on insulin resistance and we just don’t know enough. I recommend talking to your doctor about taking CLA supplements if you have type 2 diabetes.
Omega-6s Promote a Healthy Immune System Response
One of the newly discovered benefits of omega-6s is that it supports your immune system and helps promote a healthy inflammatory response. A 2004 study examined the effects of CLA supplementation on immune cell function in healthy men. The study found that CLA supplementation facilitated healthy immune system function, especially in situations such as allergy and inflammatory disease.
Another study found that conjugated linoleic acid not only decreases inflammatory cytokines, but it also increases anti-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are small proteins involved in cell signaling during the immune system response.
Omega-6s Support Bone Health
Our bones are constantly changing, growing, and developing. Your bones are basically made up of collagen and calcium. Throughout your life, your body updates the composition of the collagen and minerals that keeps your bones strong.
Until the age of 25, your bones are very dense with minerals. Your body adds more new bone than it takes away. Between the ages 25 to 50, your bone density stays fairly steady with equal breakdown and formation. Yet once you reach the age of 50, your bones begin to break down faster than they reform.
Omega-6s Can Support Heart Health
There isn’t a whole lot of research done on how omega-6 fatty acids support your heart, however, most of the studies are promising. Remember, it’s essential to have the right omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
One study found that CLA reduces plasmatic triglycerides and cholesterol, two of the key measurements in determining your risk for heart disease. Keep in mind that obesity and uncontrolled diabetes are modifiable risk factors for heart disease.
Get Omega 6s with CLA
As I mentioned, getting enough healthy omega-6s in your diet is only possible if you consume highly inflammatory vegetable and seed oils. As a functional medicine doctor, I understand the need for healthy omega-6 fatty acids. When I formulated CLA, I ensured it was standardized to 80% from safflower oil — most other products deliver far less.
CLA is my first-ever supplement clinically formulated for healthy weight management. Since healthy omega-6 fatty acids are hard to obtain through diet alone, CLA contains 1,000 mg (1g) in each soft gel. I recommend taking two soft gels twice daily to get optimal amounts of conjugated linoleic acid for maximum benefits and elevated metabolism support.
By increasing fat metabolism, CLA helps your body burn more calories throughout the day, even at rest, and enables you to utilize energy more efficiently. For best results, take CLA with Lean Metabolism Support. When taken together, CLA & Lean work synergistically on your gut-brain axis to accelerate fat metabolism and stop cravings.
The Final Word on Omega-6s
Are omega-6s bad for you? Omega-6 fatty acids do unjustly get a bad reputation, yet it’s true a disproportionate ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s can negatively impact your health and increase your risk of chronic illness. The whole truth is that omega-6 provides many health benefits, including promoting faster metabolism, supporting heart health, and regulating blood glucose levels. Utilizing a natural source of omega-6s, such as CLA, is a great way to reap all the benefits. Get yours today!
- Omega-6 fatty acids: Can they cause heart disease?. Mayo Clinic. 2022.
- Conversion of linoleic acid and alpha‐linolenic acid to long‐chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), with a focus on pregnancy, lactation and the first 2 years of life. Robert A. Gibson, Bev Muhlhausler, and Maria Makrides. Maternal & Child Nutrition. 2011.
- Essential fatty acid deficiency in patients receiving home parenteral nutrition. P B Jeppesen, C E Høy, and P B Mortensen. American Journal on Clinical Nutrition. 1998.
- Omega-3 Versus Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Prevention and Treatment of Inflammatory Skin Diseases. Anamaria Balić, et al. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2020.
- How to Optimize Your Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio. By Kris Gunnars, BSc. Healthline. 2018.