The Benefits of Omega-6′s

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

Odd title right? Most people today think of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats as the devil. These fatty acids, coming mainly from refined industrial vegetable oils are the cause of low-level systemmic inflammation, and therefore partly responsible for every disease under the sun, at least that’s the theory. I do actually believe that there is a lot of truth to that statement, and that on the whole we as a society consume far too many omega-6′s and far too little omega-3′s. The problem arises when health-minded people attempt to eliminate omega-6′s from their diet, and consume vast quantities of omega-3′s. The 3′s are all well and good, but we need the 6′s too. It reminds of when health-minded people used to attempt to eliminate all saturated fat from their diet, their heart was in the right place, but their information was not.

Now I am not encouraging people to consume copious amounts of highly refined and damaged vegetable oils like soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, etc, I am encouraging people to remember that swinging to far in any one direction is never the answer. There is one particular omega-6 fatty acid that I wanted to glorify today. That is Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).

GLA is found in evening primrose oil, borage oil, black currant seed oil and a few others. It is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is often used in treatment for acne and excezema. We actually produce GLA from linoleic acid (which in excess is a pretty nasty little fatty acid) by the enzyme delta-6-desaturase. Some people, especially as we age have a decreased ability to convert linoleic acid into GLA. This can also be a problem when there isn’t sufficient linoleic acid in the diet. Insufficient linoleic acid intake is most definitely not a problem for the average American consumer, but for people who take their nutrition to extremes and try to avoid all vegetable oils, it could actually become an issue. Those omega-6 fatty acids are essential, meaning we have to get them from the diet because the body can not produce them from other materials. They are needed for the inflammatory process, for making GLA, and deficiency symptoms can include dry hair, hair loss, and poor wound healing.

As you can see, I am a fan of Barleans products
As you can see, I am a fan of Barlean’s products

So unlike the other omega-6 fatty acids, GLA is anti-inflammatory and has immune-boosting properties, it is the paradox of the omega-6 world. It is also being studied for its anti-cancer properties, and its potential to prevent tumor growth and spreading.

In conclusion, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for all you omega-3 junkies out there, to maybe include a couple hundred milligrams of GLA from evening primrose or borage oil, just to be on the safe side.

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Posted on May 21st, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

11 Comments

  1. Rob Palmer Says:

    You’re obviously the man to ask this question: what are your thoughts on sunflower seeds? I know Jonny Bowden likes them, but are they a good source of GLA? I’ve been eating a lot of them lately and I’ve experienced some of the symptoms of GLA deficiency. Thanks for your help.

  2. Lindsay Says:

    “My name is Lindsay, and I’m an Omega-3 junkie” This is really interesting because I do read a lot about the dangers of over-consumption of Omega-6. I recently read that the extreme increase in Omega-6 consumption may be responsible for the increase in coronary heart disease that started in the 20s and 30s: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/05/coronary-heart-disease-epidemic_19.html
    What should our ratios or amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 be? Is the couple hundred milligrams a good amount to strike that balance?

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  4. Rob Palmer Says:

    Stephan just posted up another entry about ensuring a proper ratio of 6:3.

  5. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Rob,

    Sunflower seeds are a great food, but if they are causing you problems, then I would either cut back on them, or avoid them altogether. Sunflower seeds are a great source of another n-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, which can be converted to GLA, but not necessarily. Over consumption of linoleic acid can be problematic, so look to see if you are consuming a lot of other vegetable oils.

  6. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Lindsay,

    Stephan always has good stuff over there. A good balance would be anywhere from 4:1 – 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3. There is no one set perfect recommendation, as long as you are somewhere between those 2, you will be golden. The GLA won’t be enough on it’s own, depending on how much omega-3 you take in, but you would be amazed on the amount of omega-6 you take in without realizing it. You need some omega-6 fats, they are essential, but just try to achieve the above ratios and you will be fine.

  7. Healthy and Hearty Hemp : The Home of Brian St. Pierre Training Says:

    [...] It is a tremendously versatile little plant that contains all the essential amino acids and fatty acids, which is quite a remarkable combination. It has a perfect 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, while also being a solid source of the very beneficial and anti-inflammatory omega-6 GLA. Omega-6 fats tend to get a bad rap because they are pro-inflammatory, but what people fail to realize is that inflammation is necessary to a degree. It is an essential component to the healing process, and while it needs to be kept in check, it should not be utterly eliminated. To read more about omega-6’s and GLA, I wrote about it HERE. [...]

  8. Random Thursday Thoughts : The Home of Brian St. Pierre Training Says:

    [...] everything-healthy omega-3’s, but some evening primrose oil for the anti-inflammatory omega-6 GLA to boot, along with some vitamin E to prevent oxidation. Seems quite solid to [...]

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