Do you need Omega-6 or Omega-9?

July 24, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Should you be taking one of the popular omega-6 or omega-9 supplements with your omega-3s? So many choices, claims, and promises. The ideal ratio of 3 to 6 to 9? Disputed. The “perfectly balanced” dose? Depends. My advice? Just stick with your omega-3s.

Perfect isn’t there

The fact that supplement producers disagree wildly on what the “ideal doses” are is only one reason to leave omegas 6 and 9 on the pharmacy shelf. Some say the ratio is 4 omega-6 to 1 omega-3. Others say 1-to-1 omega-3 to omega-6. Others say 2-to-1. It’s all over the map.

Let me share the basic science as simply as I can.

The fatty acid “teams”

Omegas 3, 6, and 9 all play different, specialized roles in our bodies. And each has a specialized team of component acids.

The omega-3 team includes some super-skilled players:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) produces chemicals that help reduce inflammation and symptoms of depression (1, 2).
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) accounts for a high percentage of our brain weight, and is vitally important to normal brain development and function.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) helps produce EPA and DHA, and is used by our body for energy. (5).

Working together, the omega-3 fatty acids do all of this invaluable health work:

  • Reduce inflammation throughout the body
  • Improve heart health
  • Support mental health
  • Reduce weight and waist size
  • Reduce liver fat
  • Prevent dementia
  • Promote bone health
  • Prevent asthma

That’s as impressive a shopping cart of benefits as you’ll find anywhere.

The trick is this—our bodies can’t do home-made omega-3s. Even our ancient great-great-great-great grandparents couldn’t do that. We have to get omega-3 from our diet.

Way back when, no problem—there were no processed foods, only natural fruits, nuts, grains, and veggies. And any meat our ancestors ate fed on only omega-3-rich grasses and other natural sources.

Today? Forget it. The Standard American Diet (SAD, the perfect acronym) is rich in over-processed, over-salted, over-sugared, under-nutritious, non-foods—and is hugely deficient in omega-3s.

Imagine tossing all of those omega-3 benefits out the window.

But that’s how it is. Simply put, omega-3 deficiency leads to chronic inflammation and its terrible outcomes—obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease…the list goes on.

I have just a few go-to supplements I recommend to all my patients. Omega-3 is one of them.

So what about omegas 6 and 9?

The omega-6 team also contains different, specialized sub-acids. Working with the omega-3 team, many play a critical role in:

  • Supporting brain function
  • Promoting normal growth and development
  • Stimulating skin and hair growth
  • Maintaining bone health
  • Regulating metabolism
  • Maintaining the reproductive system
  • Producing energy

Well done, omega-6s!

But there’s a catch.

Some omega-6s promote inflammation—preventing omega-3’s incredibly important anti-inflammatory properties.

And here’s another key reason why I say no to omega-6 supplements.

Omega-6 overdose

Just like omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids, can’t be produced by our bodies. We get them from our diets.

And guess what most Americans’ diets already contain?

Typically, 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. A full-on SAD can push that up to 50 to 1.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

Let there be a healthy, continuing difference of opinion as to the perfect ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. But let it be beyond dispute that 14 to 25 to 50 omega-6 to 1 omega-3 is dangerously over the top. In fact, it’s highly likely that the omega-6 overdose plays a huge role in the nationwide epidemic of chronic inflammation.

Let’s let The Mediterranean Diet point the way, where the high end of the ratio is 4 omega-6 to 1 omega-3.

Me, I’d tighten the reins even more: the ideal ratio is 2–1.

The omega-9 team

Omega-9s include:

  • Oleic acid, a fat found in olive oil, macadamia oil, poultry fat, and lard. Some suspect it’s the fat responsible for olive oil’s amazing powers, but it’s not proven.
  • Mead acid may have some anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Erucic acid is possibly harmful to humans.
  • Nervonic acid is important for healthy brain function.

Omega-9s have been shown to reduce both dangerous triglycerides and “bad” lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol in patients with diabetes (3).

Other studies have found that people with high omega-9 diets had less inflammation and better insulin sensitivity than those who ate diets high in saturated fat

These are important benefits.

But we don’t need to get them from supplements. Not only are they already the most abundant fats in our cells, but our bodies can produce all the omega-9 we need, unlike with omegas 3 and 6. And we can get it delivered from a healthy diet.

That’s why there’s no recommended dosage. There’s omega-9 a’plenty already in us. No need to add more.

So what’s the right thing to do?

First, I hope this explains why you don’t need omega-6 or omega-9 supplements. If anything, you should look for ways to reduce your omega-6 and 9 intake—especially if your diet looks anything like the SAD.

Reducing omega-6s means limiting your consumption of vegetable oils other than olive oil, avocado oil, nut and seed oils and reducing or limiting fried foods that have been cooked in refined, processed vegetable oils—the ubiquitous soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, and a few others.

Second, you should be sure your omega-3 intake is at least 1,000 mg/day (make sure your supplement says 1,000 mg of omega-3 and not just 1,000 mg of oil). Talk that over with your doctors.

Third, and it pains me to say it, if you depend on fish for your omega-3 intake, reduce that intake from my formerly recommended 3 servings/week, max, to 1 serving, max, of 3 ounces, max. This poor world’s waters are so contaminated that there’s always a serious risk of heavy metal and mercury toxins, no matter where the fish come from.

Indeed, I test every patient for those contaminants. It’s really quite horrifying that just about every one shows danger signals ranging from mild and tolerable, within limits, to high.

I don’t think many Americans could ever be assured of adequate omega-3 intake from oily fish alone. Following my recommended weekly serving limit will make it all but impossible.

So leave omega-6 and omega-9 supplements on the pharmacy shelves. Let your supplement be omega-3s.

You’ll be taking good care.

References

“Omega-6 fatty acids overview” University of Maryland. Published NA. Last accessed July 3, 2017.

“What Are omega-9 fats?” paleoleap. Published NA. Last accessed July 3, 2017.

Robertson, Ruairi. “Omega-3-6-9 Fatty Acids: A Complete Overview” Published January 15, 2017. Last accessed July 3, 2017.

Gunnars, Kris. “6 Reasons Why Vegetable Oils Can be Harmful” Authority Nutrition. Published August 12, 2013. Last accessed July 3, 2017.

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