Fat Facts: What’s the Difference Between Omega-3s and Omega-6s? - Wakunaga of America


Fat Facts: What’s the Difference Between Omega-3s and Omega-6s?

Ask anyone what the most hated nutrient in America is and they’ll probably say fat. The war on fat dates back to 1980 and was based on misguided science linking the consumption of dietary fat to a cardiovascular disease. But the resulting fat-free craze actually made people fatter and sicker.1 One reason the fat-free era didn’t improve health was that health gurus of the time didn’t discriminate between harmful and healthy fats. And that left many people short on good-for-you essential fatty acids (EFAs).

What Are EFAs?

EFAs are polyunsaturated fats that are critical to good health. In fact, studies have linked them to a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and infant mortality. A diet rich in EFAs have also been found to foster better brain, eye, and joint health.2  The problem is, the body can’t make them. This means we have to get our EFAs from either food or supplements.

There are two main types of EFAs—omega-3s and omega-6s. To get the most benefit from these two types of fat, experts agree that people should consume a 4:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega 3. Yet the typical Western diet provides a ratio closer to 20:1, and that can foster chronic, low-level inflammation.3 Why is today’s ratio so out of whack? One of the main reasons is the reliance on cheap seed oils like canola oil or safflower oil that are used by food manufacturers to create the wide array of convenience and ultra-processed foods in supermarkets today. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to optimize your omega fat ratio. But first, let’s take a deeper dive into how omega-3s and -6s can help you become healthier.

The 411 on Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids is an umbrella term for three specific types of fats. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two types of omega-3s found in fish like salmon, anchovies, and mackerel. These types of fatty, cold water fish are considered the best source of omega-3s. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the third form of omega 3 and it’s found in plants like chia seeds, soybeans, and walnuts. In theory, ALA can be converted to the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA in the liver. However, studies show that less than 15 percent is actually converted into these marine-based omega-3s.4

Why do you need to consume more omega-3s? One of the best reasons is because omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatories. While short-term inflammation is an important tool the immune system uses to heal the body, research has linked chronic inflammation to a wide variety of serious health conditions.5 However studies show that omega-3s can help protect against cardiovascular disease, reduce the risk of cognitive decline, and improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, and depression due to their anti-inflammatory action.6,7,8,9,10  Omega-3s also play an important structural role in cell membranes and promote cell membrane fluidity—and that translates to healthier cells.11 No wonder health experts tell you to up your intake of omega-3s, especially if your diet contains large amounts of its cousin, omega-6.

The Truth About Omega-6s

Some people erroneously portray omega-6s as nothing more than unhealthy inflammation-triggering fats. But, while some omega-6s are indeed pro-inflammatory, these EFAs can offer health benefits, too. And that’s especially true when they come from healthy sources like avocado oil, borage oil, eggs, nuts, and seeds. When balanced with omega-3s, omega-6s play a crucial role in brain function and normal growth and development.12 They also act as precursors to eicosanoids, signaling molecules that modulate various systems in the body, including your arteries, kidneys, and lungs.13  But trouble begins with when you consume excessive amounts of omega-6s. Studies show that high levels can increase the risk of bone loss, cardiovascular disease, dementia, inflammatory bowel disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.14,15 This is why it’s so important to reduce your intake of omega-6s while, at the same time, increasing the amount of omega-3s you consume. The right ratio is key.

Why You Should Consider Omega-3 Supplements

Most Americans don’t eat a lot of fish, which is the richest source of dietary omega-3s. But you can bridge the gap with a high quality fish oil supplement. Unfortunately, many supplements contain fish oil that has oxidized—and that can cause the fishy smell and taste many associate with fish oil supplements. Another problem? Fish oil is often contaminated with PCBs and other toxins. If that weren’t enough, it’s not uncommon for fish oil to be extracted using harsh solvents like acetone and hexane. That’s why it’s always a good idea to check the source of your fish oil before buying a supplement to ensure it comes from a company that not only prioritizes purity and sustainability but that has been certified by a third-party group like Friends of the Sea.

Storing and Using Your Fish Oil Supplement

Once you’ve found a supplement that ticks all the boxes, there are a couple of things you can do to increase its potency and bioavailability. First, make sure to take your supplement with a meal that contains some fat. Taking fish oil with a good source of fat can increase the bioavailability of omega-3 fatty acids and enhance their effectiveness.16

Effectiveness also depends on how you store your supplement. Today, most fish oil supplements can be stored in a cool, dark location like a cabinet that’s not near a heat source. But check the label to make sure you’re storing your specific supplement properly.


While it’s always a great idea to enjoy fatty fish like salmon once or twice a week, the best way to consistently improve your omega 3/omega 6 ratio is with a high quality fish oil supplement. To get even more benefit, search out a supplement that pairs high quality fish oil with other critical nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, or even Aged Garlic Extract. It just might be the most convenient way to do a body good!


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