Which is Better - Omega-3 or Omega-6?


Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play important roles in the body. But which one is healthier for you? Omega-3s and omega-6s have different effects, and the balance between them is key. Let's objectively compare omega-3 vs omega-6 fats and which one comes out on top for optimal health.

Which is Better - Omega-3 or Omega-6?

What Are Omega-3s and Omega-6s?

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats the body needs but cannot produce on its own. They must come from the diet.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The main omega-3s involved in human physiology are:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)

ALA is found in plant sources like nuts and seeds. EPA and DHA come from marine sources like fatty fish.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

The primary omega-6 fat is linoleic acid (LA). Major dietary sources include:

  • Vegetable oils like soybean, corn and safflower oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Poultry and eggs

While both essential, omega-3s and omega-6s have vastly different functions and effects in the body.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Here are some of the evidenced-based health benefits offered by omega-3s:

  • Reduce inflammation and inflammatory diseases
  • Support brain development and function
  • Improve mood and reduce depression
  • Enhance eye health and vision
  • Promote heart health and lower heart disease risk
  • Improve cholesterol profile and triglycerides
  • Ease joint pain and improve mobility
  • Support healthy pregnancy and infant development

Omega-3s act as potent anti-inflammatories and provide a wide range of whole-body benefits.

Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Linoleic acid, the primary omega-6, also provides vital functions:

  • Maintains skin health and reduces water loss through the epidermis
  • Precursor of arachidonic acid needed to produce eicosanoids like prostaglandins
  • Provides calories and energy
  • Supports growth and development
  • Helps regulate metabolism

So omega-6s also serve important roles, but are more generalized compared to the targeted health effects of omega-3s.

Omega-3 vs Omega-6: Key Differences

Omega-3s and omega-6s differ in the following key ways:

Anti-Inflammatory vs Pro-Inflammatory

Omega-3s reduce inflammation, while omega-6s promote inflammation in excessive amounts. This drives their distinct effects.

Improves vs Worsens Mental Health

Omega-3s boost mood and depression. But excess omega-6 intake is linked to worsening depression, anxiety, aggression and memory.

Lowers vs Raises Heart Disease Risk

Higher omega-3 consumption lowers heart disease mortality. But excessive omega-6 intake raises heart disease death risk.

More Potent Nutraceutical Properties

Omega-3s have more potent medicinal effects at lower doses compared to omega-6s. They don’t need massive amounts to provide benefits.

Why Omega-3/6 Balance Is Key

Both omega-3s and omega-6s perform important jobs. The issue arises when their balance is out of whack.

For optimal health, omega-6 intake should not dramatically exceed omega-3s.

Historically, humans evolved eating an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio close to 1:1. Today, the typical Western diet provides a ratio around 16:1, heavily skewed towards omega-6!

Excess omega-6 consumption leads to:

  • Increased bodily inflammation
  • Raised heart disease risk
  • Worsening mental health issues
  • Greater risk of chronic diseases

Rebalancing your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio closer to 1:1 or 2:1 can reduce incidence of these modern health problems.

Tips to Improve Omega-3/6 Balance

Follow these evidenced-based tips to improve your omega-3 to omega-6 balance:

  • Reduce vegetable oil consumption. They are very high in omega-6.
  • Increase omega-3 rich fatty fish intake to 2-3 times per week.
  • Incorporate omega-3 foods like walnuts, flax and chia seeds daily.
  • Take an omega-3 supplement like fish oil. Most people don’t eat enough omega-3 foods.
  • Limit processed and fried foods. They skew ratios in favor of omega-6.
  • Choose pasture-raised eggs and meat. They contain more omega-3s than conventionally-raised.

With a concerted effort, you can restore a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 balance.

Which is Healthier: Omega-3 or Omega-6?

When you weigh all the evidence, omega-3 fatty clearly come out on top as the healthier choice for most people:

  • More potent anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties
  • Uniquely boost mental health and cognitive function
  • Reduce risk for the top causes of death like heart disease
  • Overall more targeted therapeutic health benefits

Omega-6s are still essential in moderation. But most modern diets contain excessive amounts, and omega-3 intake is often inadequate.

Prioritizing omega-3s from seafood, plant sources or supplements confers powerful benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing.

Which is Better - Omega-3 or Omega-6? Conclusion

Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play important physiological roles. But omega-3s like EPA and DHA confer more potent and targeted health benefits ranging from enhanced cognitive function to protection against heart disease and depression. They act as strong anti-inflammatories. In contrast, excessive omega-6 consumption promotes inflammation. The key is maintaining a healthy balance between the two. Most modern diets are overloaded with omega-6s and deficient in omega-3s compared to our evolutionary past. Restoring balance by increasing omega-3s and reducing excess omega-6s can help reduce incidence of many inflammatory diseases. When weighing all the evidence, omega-3s come out on top as the healthier fatty acid choice for most people. Aim to increase your omega-3 intake from fatty fish, plant sources like flax and chia, and consider an omega-3 supplement. Your mind and body will thank you.

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