Despite its bad reputation, fat is essential to your health. Some fats are unnecessary and unhealthy, but others, such as the omega-6 variety, are classified as essential. Your body needs omega-6 fats but is unable to manufacture them, so dietary intake is a necessity. The good news is that the standard American diet is abundant in omega-6 fats, so it's likely you're getting more than enough.
It's All About Balance
Two classes of polyunsaturated fats exist, omega-3 and omega-6. The main dietary sources of omega-6 fat include plant oils such as soybean, corn, peanut and safflower, as well as meat, eggs and dairy foods. The typical American diet contains an estimated 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. A much healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fat is between 2-to-1 and 4-to-1, according to the UMMC. A disproportionate ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fat may promote inflammation.
Beneficial Functions of Omega-6 Fats
A team from the Biosciences Institute in Ireland and other researchers published an extensive review of the health implications of omega-6 fats in "Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism" in 2012. Along with omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats play a role in regulating blood pressure, blood clotting, immunity and brain function, according to the review. Most notably, your body uses both omega-6 and omega-3 fats to produce eicosanoids, a class of compounds that play a pivotal role in regulating inflammation. In addition, omega-6 fats regulate cellular function and gene expression, according to the review.
Potential Health Benefits
Roughly 85 to 90 percent of the omega-6 fats in the typical diet are composed of linoleic acid, according to the University of Nebraska. Replacing saturated fats with omega-6 fats may decrease the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and improve insulin resistance. It's recommended that women and men up to age 50 get 14 and 17 grams of linoleic acid, respectively, each day.
Gamma-linolenic acid is a type of omega-6 fat found in borage seed oil, evening primrose and black currant seed oil. Your body can also make GLA from linoleic acid. Too much linoleic acid can promote inflammation, but GLA may help reduce inflammation, according to the UMMC. The UMMC notes that limited evidence indicates GLA may improve conditions such as high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and menopausal symptoms. However, more recent, well-designed human studies are needed.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- University of Colorado - Colorado Springs: Omega 3, 6 and 9 and How They Add Up
- University of Nebraska: Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Gamma-linolenic Acid
- Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: Health Implications of High Dietary Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids