Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. They are necessary for human health. The body can not synthesize them – they must be obtained from food. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), they help hair growth, fresh looking skin, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and maintain the reproductive system.
A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote it. In fact, some studies suggest that an increased intake of omega-6 fatty acids may play a role in complex regional pain syndrome. An American-type diet generally contains 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.
Mediterranean types of diets on the other hand have a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies show that people who follow this type of diet’s likelyhood to develop heart disease is twice as small. Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic and moderate consumption of wine.
There are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids. There are a group of eight polyunsaturated fatty acids. Most important for human nutrition are four of them: Gamma linolenic acid (GLA / GLA); linoleic (linoleic) acid (LC / LA); arachidonic acid (ARC / ArA) Dihomo gamma-linolenic acid (DGLK / DGLA).
Benefits of Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids may be useful for the following diseases:
Diabetic neuropathy. Some studies show that taking gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) for 6 months or more can reduce the symptoms of pain in people with diabetic neuropathy. For those with good blood sugar control, the effect will be better.
Rheumatoid Arthritis. Studies are incomplete and unclear as to whether primrose oil helps reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Some preliminary data shows that it can reduce pain, swelling and stiffness in the morning, but other studies have found no effect. It is unlikely that primrose oil can stop the progression of the disease, so joint damage will still occur.
Allergies. Intake ofOmega-6 fatty acids in the diet or as a supplement, such as GLA from oil of evening primrose or other sources, have a long history of use in folk medicine against allergies.
Breast Cancer. One study found that women with breast cancer who took GLA had better results after taking tamoxifen (a drug used to treat breast cancer) than those who took only tamoxifen. Other studies have shown that GLA inhibits tumor cell lines’ activity in breast cancer.
Also, omega-6 fatty acids are used in cases of eczema, high blood pressure (hypertension), they help to alleviate the symptoms of menopause, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis. It should be borne in mind, however, that all the effects of these fatty acids do not come by themselves - it must be combined with many other factors, and that action is curative rather, than magical.
Food sources of omega-6 fatty acids
For general health, there must be a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio should be between 2:1 - 4:1, omega-6 and omega-3. Some health educators support even lower ratios.
Available forms of omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are available in oils containing linoleic acid (LA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), such as evening primrose and black currant. Blue-green algae also contains GLA.
Intake of omega-6 fatty acids
The average diet (ie, the normal diet) ensures adequate intake of omega-6 fatty acids. So supplements are usually not necessary, unless you are treated for a specific condition.
Talk to your doctor to determine what form and how much omega-6 fatty acids are best suited for you.