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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.

Sian Baker

Medically reviewed by Sian Baker, Dip ION mBANT mCNHC – Written by Beth Giddings.

Updated on 1st December 2021