by Catherine M. Haug, December 2007; updated April 2019, July 2022 (image, right, from Scientific Psychic (5))
As described in Fats & FattyAcids, The Omega number refers to the position of the last double bond in the fatty acid chain, as counted backwards from the last carbon (at the opposite end from the carboxylic acid (COOH) end of the chain). Thus an Omega-6 fat has a double bond 6 bonds back from the end of the chain, as in the image, above right.
For info about the differences between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats, see my Omega-3 Fatty Acids article, and also great difference between.com article (13)
- Includes: 1. Common Omega-6 fats; 2. Foods High in Omega-6 fats; 3. Benefits of and uses for Omega-6 fats; 4. Essential Omega-6 oils; 5. Omega-3/Omega-6 balance; 6. Omega-6 Supplements
- See also: 1. Diet & Health Menu; 2. About Fats, an Introduction; 3. Fats & FattyAcids; 4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Common Omega-6 Fats
The most common Omega-6 Fats are: (7A)
- Linoleic Acid
- Gama Linolenic Acid (GLA)
- Eicosadienoic Acid
- Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA)
- Arachidonic Acid (AA)
- Docosadienoic Acid
- Adrenic Acid
- Docosapentaenoic Acid
- Calendic Acid
- 10,12-Conjugated Linoleic Acid (one type of CLA)
Of these fats, only Linoleic Acid is considered essential (see below), because the others can be made from this fat. (see Essential Omega-6 Fats, below, for more)
Omega-6 fatty acids are precursors to endocannabinoids, lipoxins, and specific eicosanoids, (7C). Eicosanoids are important for intercellular signaling.
Foods High in Omega-6 Fats:
Highest Omega-6 Foods (Caution: if not cold pressed, such oils are rancid in the bottle): (9, 11A, 11B)
- Cold-pressed safflower oil
- Cold-pressed grapeseed oil
- Cold-pressed sunflower oil
- Cold-pressed poppyseed oil
- Cold-pressed corn oil (use Organic or non-GMO brands only)
- Walnuts and cold-pressed walnut oil
- Cold-pressed cottonseed oil
- Cold-pressed soybean oil (use Organic or non-GMO brands only)
- Sesame seeds and cold-pressed sesame oil
- Other seeds, and oils pressed from the seeds: black currant seed, borage seed, evening primrose.
- Organic, non-GMO whole foods, including grass-fed beef, chicken, and eggs.
Benefits and Uses for Omega-6 Fats:
Linoleic acid and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), essential fatty acids present in grass-fed & finished beef and other foods (8B, 11B):
- treat insulin resistance, by improving insulin action and reducing circulating glucose
- promote healthy brain function
- support skin and hair health
- high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
- food induced allergic reactions
GLA (gamma linolenic acid):
- may reduce symptoms of nerve pain in people with diabetic neuropathylong-term. (11A)
- supports skin and hair growth. (12)
AA (Arachidonic acid) in evening primrose oil has been used traditionally to treat (9):
- Digestive problems
- Sore throat
It is also used for skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne (9, 10).
Blackcurrant oil, a type of oil that is high in GLA (gamma linolenic acid), has been used to (11A):
- Reduce symptoms of nerve pain in people with diabetic neuropathy long-term;
- Significantly reduce diastolic blood pressure compared to a placebo;
- Reduce high blood pressure symptoms, when used alone or combined with Omega-3 oil;
A combination of Omega-6 and Omega3 oils has been used to (11A):
- Treat rheumatoid arthritis, to reduce symptoms and keep joint pain at bay, but more research is needed;
- Reduce symptoms of ADHD, but more research is needed;
- Support bone health.
Essential Omega-6 fats
While most Omega-6 fats can be made by the body, there is one important essential Omega-6: Linoleic acid.
However, the following Omega-6 fats are often added to the list of essential fats because they are difficult for the body to make from other fats (due to insufficient enzyme activity caused by one or more of the following conditions: consumption of trans-fats; over-consumption of Omega-6 fats; zinc deficiency; and vitamin deficiencies) (1, 2):
- AA (Arachidonic acid) is found in butter, tallows (rendered beef or mutton fat), and organ meats (1).
- GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid) is found in evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black current oil. This fat is considered a “good” omega-6 fat, because its effects are anti-inflammatory, like the omega-3 fats. It is also difficult to make this fat from other fats, so that many people show symptoms of deficiency (1).
Dietary balance between these two types of fats is very important for our health. Most scientists agree their levels should be 1:1 ratio. One reason why this is so important is their affect on inflammation of tissues. Those made from most:
- Most Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory;
- Most Omega-6 fats are inflammatory; however, GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid) is considered a “good” omega-6 fat, because its effects are anti-inflammatory, like the omega-3 fats.
Because most Americans eat a diet high in omega-6 fats (mostly from seed oils like soy, corn and canola used in processed foods, or in home-cooking), we tend to have more inflammation in our body tissues. Increasing omega-3 fat consumption, especially those present in fish, and decreasing omega-6 fat consumption will bring these fats into proper balance
The sources I take are Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Mercola’s Krill Oil. I also add freshly ground flax seeds to my morning smoothie. Note: all of these also provide Omega-3 fatty acids.
I also eat wild-caught salmon 1 -2 days a week, when in-season (late-spring to early fall), and wild-caught cod 1 – 2 days a week during the rest of the year. Other fish and/or seafood high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are crab, tuna, herring, mussels and oysters.
Another great source of Omega-6 fats that I eat regularly are walnuts, almonds, and pecans. I also use pine nuts in some recipes, but cooking them oxidizes the oils.
Other excellent sources of Omega-6 fats are cold-pressed vegetable seed oils (but I don’t use them unless they are Organic, Cold-pressed, and GMO-free):*
- cold-pressed corn oil*
- cold-pressed safflower oil*
- cold-pressed sesame seed oil*
- cold-pressed sunflower oil*
- cold-pressed flax oil*
- cold-pressed evening primrose oil
[Soy and cottonseed oils contain denatured/oxidized Omega-6 fats, so I do not recommend them because they are likely GMO].
‘* CAUTION: AVOID ANY THAT ARE NOT COLD PRESSED.”Cold-pressed” is very important, because the oils are not oxidized by cold-pressing. Commercial vegetable oils are not recommended because the high temperature and pressure processing oxidizes the fats, making them toxic. Always look for cold-pressed varieties. Also avoid vegetable oils in plastic containers, as the oils will leach harmful toxins from the plastic container.
Enzyme supplements: It is important to remember that the body has difficulty digesting and absorbing any fats without help:
- The enzyme lipase is required to remove the fatty acids from the glycerol backbone;
- An emulsifier (such as lecithin) to mix the water-phobic fat with the watery chyme (what digesting food is called), so that lipase can do its work.
Most whole-food sources provide both of these; for example, raw egg yolks contain lecithin as an emulsifier and active lipase (cooking destroys the lipase). But with supplementation, these must be added. While the pancreas can excrete lipase for this purpose, it is more efficient if the lipase is provided by the food.
Lecithin is an excellent dietary additive, because it not only emulsifies the fats during digestion, but also provides choline, which is essential for fat metabolism in the liver.
The best way to take supplemental fats is to mix the fat with a bit of lecithin and water or apple juice, and stir in some powdered fungal lipase. Or mix the fat with a raw egg yolk in a smoothie.
See also Mercola post on new research concerning Omega-6 fats: Is Omega-6 more important than Omega-3? (8A).
- The Skinny on Fats by Sally Fallon and Mary G, Enig, PhD
- Dr Axe: