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How Much Omega 6 Do You Need Per Day?

Omega 6 is a nutritious fatty acid – a type of fat with a particular molecular structure.

More specifically, omega 6 is a ‘polyunsaturated’ fat, meaning its chemical structure consists of multiple double chemical bonds. The principal difference between omega 6 and its close relative omega 3 is the location of the final double bond. In omega 3, this is three carbon atoms from the end – the ‘omega’ – of the molecular structure, and in omega 6 the last bond is located (you guessed it) six molecules away. 

Both omega 3 and omega 6 are classified as ‘essential’ fatty acids because the body cannot synthesise them, so they must be absorbed from the foods we eat. 

There are four principal types of omega 6 fatty acid:

  1. Linoleic acid
  2. Arachidonic acid
  3. Gamma linoleic acid
  4. Conjugated linoleic acid

What does omega 6 do in our bodies?

Our bodies need omega 6 to fuel multiple biological processes fundamental to health. This crucial nutrient is a basic building block of every cell in our bodies, helping to ward off the molecular damage that can lead to disease. It could not play a more important role in our health.

This cellular involvement means that omega 6 is vital to:

  • Brain development and healthy function.
  • Physical development.
  • Hair growth.
  • Skin health – omega 6 has been linked to a lower risk of dermatitis.
  • Bone development.
  • The control of blood pressure.
Omega 6 is also involved in:

  • Our body’s metabolic rate – i.e. the speed at which the physical processes which sustain us take place.
  • The production of biological energy.
  • Reproductive health.
  • Heart health.
According to a number of studies, a healthy omega 6 intake reduces the risk of heart disease and heart attack. It also lowers cholesterol levels, discouraging the build-up of plaque in our arteries, cutting the risk of blood clots – a very good thing, as these can be life-threatening.

Researchers have also linked omega 6 to a decreased risk of such autoimmune illnesses such as arthritis. Studies have also linked omega 6 to a decrease in fat mass.

Omega 6 triggers inflammation – a natural response to pathogens and infection. By contrast omega 3 reduces inflammation. This makes a balance of omega 6 and omega 3 an important component of health. Nutritionists recommend a 6:3 ratio of four to one or less – ie at least a quarter of your essential fatty acid intake should come from omega 3 rather than omega 6.

The effects of insufficient omega 6

If a person is not eating a sufficient quantity of omega 6, they may experience a variety of alarming symptoms. These can include:

  • Dry skin, often with bumps around hair follicles
  • Skin conditions, eczema
  • Lank hair
  • Brittle nails
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • The onset of allergic reactions like hayfever or asthma
  • Visual disturbances – poor low light vision, sensitivity to bright light, difficulty focus on letters while reading
  • Short term memory problems, poor concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood disturbances – depression, anxiety
Some studies have linked fatty acid deficiency in childhood to development issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

There is a significant overlap between omega 6 and omega 3 deficiencies: many of the symptoms are identical.

Can you have too much omega 6?

So just how much omega 6 per day is safe? Can you have too much? The answer is yes, and this is a surprisingly common problem. Many people on typical western diets consume too much omega 6 and too little omega 3. Processed foods are often made with oils high in omega 6 and this is a major contributor to excessive consumption of this nutrient.

Common symptoms of an omega 6 excess are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Water retention, swelling
  • Chronic inflammation of tissues
Chronic, long-term inflammation contributes to potentially serious illnesses like heart disease, arthritis and cancer. Excess omega 6 has also been linked to an increased risk of heart blood clots.

How to increase your intake of omega 6

If you believe your symptoms may be related to an omega 6 deficiency, it is sensible to fine tune your diet.

Good sources of omega 6 include;
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (for example almonds)
  • Sunflower oil and seeds
  • Maize (corn)
  • Soya
  • Oils like blackcurrant seed and evening primrose
As you can see from the list above, it is not difficult to consume sufficient omega 6 if you eat a reasonable, balanced quantity of fresh foods. 

Test your omega 6 levels

Since essential fatty acids are so central to health, it makes a lot of sense to investigate your current levels of these crucial nutrients. 

It’s surprisingly easy to do so. An omega 3 and 6 test from Health Hub provides a simple and rapid way to discover your own balance of omega 6 to omega 3. 

Send in a blood sample for a full, professional laboratory analysis and you’ll soon have the information you need to get right on top of your unique nutritional needs.