Omega-6 : Omega-3’s Counterpart

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

While we’re probably familiar about the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids by now, there is another form of polyunsaturated fatty acid – or ‘good fat’, that complements Omega-3 and is just as vital for health, which is Omega-6.  

What are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?

Just like Omega-3s, Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means that we need to obtain them through food intake.

Omega-6 fatty acids play a role in providing energy, stimulating skin and hair growth, maintaining bone health, regulating metabolism and have been shown to treat symptoms of chronic diseases.

At the same time, Omega-6 fatty acids produce eicosanoids which play an important role in the immune system by fighting cell damage and regulating pain. However, too much of a good thing raises a concern as excessive pro-inflammatory eicosanoids increase the risk of inflammation.

In that case, do we actually need Omega-6?

Yes, based on the Malaysia Recommended Nutrient Intake 2017, Omega-6 intake is recommended at 3-7% of our total energy intake.

The increased risk of inflammation associated with Omega-6 isn’t due to Omega-6 fatty itself, but rather, due to the imbalance in intake of Omega 6 & Omega-3 (the anti-inflammatory fatty acid) characterized by our diet today, which involves low intake of Omega-3 but high intake of not only Omega-6, but also saturated fat and trans fat.

Hence, consuming a balanced amount of Omega-6 and Omega-3 plays the deciding factor towards reaping the benefits of both types of fat. The recommended healthy ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 intake are between 1-to-1 and 4-to-1.

To put into perspective, diet of the human hunter–gatherer population in the Paleolithic period, which included large amounts of both Omega-6 and Omega-3 in meat, plants, fish, nuts and berries presented a balanced ratio of 1-2:1, which made a significant contribution to human evolution by influencing and allowing cognitive development.

In contrast, the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio of the typical Malaysian diet today is about 10:1, while Western diets have a much higher ratio of 15:1.

Benefits of Omega-6

·       Heart Health

When Omega-6 fatty acids are used to replace saturated fat (which is usually found in red meat, butter, coconut oil and dairy), there is a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in Malaysia for more than a decade, due to high prevalence of risk factors including obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, which is interrelated with nutrition as well. 

·       Diabetes

Gamma linolenic acid, a form of Omega-6, has been shown to reduce symptoms of nerve pain in type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients. Furthermore, it has been shown that those who had higher levels of omega-6 fatty acid in the form of linolenic acid were 35% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.


How to Achieve a Balanced Ratio of Omega 6 & Omega 3

·       Rotate between different protein sources by substituting meat intake with fish, beans and pulses, which are lower in saturated fat, but higher in Omega 3 & 6.

·       In cooking or baking, swap butter and lard (which are high in saturated fat) with oils such as olive oil or avocado oil.

·       Select oils which are low in saturated fat, and contains a balanced amount of Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. Examples include:

o   Sacha inchi oil: 1: 1.3 Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio

o   Flaxseed oil: 1: 3 Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio

o   Chia seed oil: 1: 3 Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio 

·       Limit deep fried foods, commercial baked goods, and processed foods which are high in trans fats.

By Nutritionist

Anna Hoo Clinic

References :

1.     Ministry of Health Malaysia. (2017). Recommended Nutrient Intake for Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur.

2.      Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79. doi: 10.1016/s0753-3322(02)00253-6. PMID: 12442909.

3.     Farvid, M. S., Ding, M., Pan, A., Sun, Q., Chiuve, S. E., Steffen, L. M., ... & Hu, F. B. (2014). Dietary linoleic acid and risk of coronary heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Circulation130(18), 1568-1578.

4.     Ministry of Health Malaysia. (2017). Clinical Practice Guidelines on Primary & Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease 2017. Malaysia. Retrieved from

5.     Wu, J. H., Marklund, M., Imamura, F., Tintle, N., Korat, A. V. A., De Goede, J., ... & for Heart, C. (2017). Omega-6 fatty acid biomarkers and incident type 2 diabetes: pooled analysis of individual-level data for 39 740 adults from 20 prospective cohort studies. The lancet Diabetes & endocrinology5(12), 965-974.