Both omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids essential to the human body. The ratio of these two fatty acids proves fundamental to their health benefits.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have opposing functions; yet, both improve health in the appropriate balance. Omega-6 fatty acids increase blood pressure and inflammatory reactions while omega-3 fatty acids oppose these reactions.
Alpha-linolenic (ALA), Dexahaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) comprise the family of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats can be found in fatty fish, canola, flax seeds and walnuts. Linoleic acid (LA), Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and Arachidonic acid (AA) form the omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fat sources include: soybean, corn, safflower seeds, nuts, meat, poultry and eggs.
Americans consume 10 times the quantity of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance contributes to increased inflammatory disorders in the U.S. The ideal ratio ranges between two to four times omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) established an Adequate Intake (AI) for healthy adults at 12 to 17g/day LA and 1.1 to 1.6g/day ALA. American Heart Association suggests eating a variety of oily fish at least two times a week in addition to plant foods rich in ALA.
Excessive intake of either fat supplement can cause harm. Omega-3 fats can contribute to prolonged bleeding and suppression of the immune system. Omega-6 fats can lead to gastrointestinal upset.
Eating a variety of food sources, as encouraged in the Mediterranean Diet, increases the likelihood of obtaining the ideal balance of fatty acids from foods.