What is the difference between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids?

Ozgen Dogan
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Omega-6 is a fatty acid that increases inflammation and tissue and vessel damage. It's found in plant oils such as corn, safflower, cottonseed, peanut and soybean. Years ago, humans ate foods containing omega-6s and omega-3s in a ratio of about 2:1. Back then, the meat we consumed came from animals that grazed naturally on grass out in the open air. Nowadays meat contains high amounts of omega-6 because animals are fed grain. In addition, we consume huge amounts of plant oil-laden processed foods like cookies, snacks and chips. The current American diet provides 10 to 20 times the proper amount of omega-6. So, what's crucial here is to get back to that healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2:1. Consume a diet rich in omega-3, and reduce your intake of omega-6 by cutting down on meat and food cooked in or containing the plant oils mentioned above. I give omega-3 the highest marks: 10 out of 10. In addition to its heart-health benefits, it can help reduce depression.
Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Long-chain fatty acids are a major component of the walls of the cells of the body. It is important that these walls be pliable, because hard, rigid walls make for unhealthy cells. The more flexible the cell wall, the more able it is for the cell to communicate with other cells, and for it to allow important proteins and nutrients to pass through its membranous surface. There are different kinds of fatty acids, but the two main types are omega-3 and omega-6. The difference between them on a molecular level is simply the placement of a single carbon bond. However, this small difference results in omega-3 fatty acids being hydrophilic, meaning that they accept water into their structure more readily than omega-6 fatty acids. This makes them more flexible and pliable. The ratio between these two types of fatty acids in the foods we eat has a profound impact on how our cells function, and subsequently on how healthy we are.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.