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Omega 6: Omega 3 Ratio

Omega-6 and 3 are essential fatty acids that can lower the risk of disease when in a healthy balance.

Author: Leanne Edermaniger

April 30, 2024

Reviewed by: Dr Thom Phillips

In this article:

What are Omega 3 and Omega 6?

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are types of polyunsaturated fats. That means they contain more than one unsaturated carbon bond. Generally, oils that contain polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but turn to a solid when they are chilled.

The human body cannot make omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids, so they must be acquired from the diet, making them essential.

Unlike other fats, omega-6 and 3 are not just stored or used for energy, they are biologically active and have important roles, including lowering the risk of blood clotting and inflammation.

What is Omega-3?

Two main types of omega-3 fats are important for health:

  • EPA & DHA: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are mostly found in cold-water fish, such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel.
  • ALA: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the most common type of omega-3 found in the Western diet and is present in plant oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and some animal fats. ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA, but the conversion is inefficient[1].

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are widely considered to exert anti-inflammatory effects and antidepressant and neuroprotective properties[2].

Can you have too much omega-3?

In the UK, it is recommended that you eat two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily, to get the most benefit[3]. Omega-3 supplements are not recommended because research shows that the health benefits associated with this essential fat are more likely to come from rich food sources rather than supplements[4].

However, if you are considering taking an omega-3 supplement, there are a few things you should be aware of:

  • You should aim for around 450 mg per day
  • Choose a supplement that contains DHA and EPA omega-3s rather than a fish oil supplement
  • If the supplement also contains vitamin A make sure this does not exceed 1.5 mg per day, and do not take it if you are pregnant

What is Omega-6?

Omega-6 fatty acids are mainly found in vegetable oils and are believed to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and increase high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol. However, there is some controversy about omega-6 because some scientists believe it may be pro-inflammatory, unlike its omega-3 counterparts[5].

The main reason for this is that linoleic acid can be converted into arachidonic acid, a main component of molecules that promote inflammation and the constriction of blood vessels. So, scientists argue that we should cut down our intake of omega-6 fatty acids to improve our omega-6:3 ratio, particularly as it is thought that humans evolved on a typical ratio of 1 compared to the current 15:1 to 16.7:1.

What is a good omega-6: omega-3 ratio?

There’s no standard ‘good’ omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, however, reducing omega-6 intake and increasing omega-3 through the increased consumption of fish is thought to be an effective strategy for lowering inflammation[6].

The consensus is that the lower the ratio, the better it is for your health. It’s thought that our ancestors ate equal amounts of omega 6 and omega 3, but today it’s estimated that the average ratio in the Western diet is anywhere up to 20:1iv.

Research has shown that an omega-6: omega 3 ratio of:

  • 4:1 decreased mortality by 70% in cardiovascular disease patients
  • 2.5:1 lowered rectal cancer cell growth in colorectal cancer patients while a ratio of 4:1 had no effect
  • 2-3:1 reduced inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients
  • 5:1 was beneficial for people with asthma
  • 10:1 had negative health consequences[7]

Our data shows that 46% of Forth customers have an omega-6: omega-3 ratio that’s outside of a healthy range. Overall, 36% of people have a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and are likely to benefit from reducing their omega-6 intake and increasing their omega-3s.

Checking Your Ratio

Checking your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio couldn’t be easier with our home blood testing service.

Our ‘Ultimate Health Check’, the most comprehensive at-home blood test in our range, measures your omega-6: omega-3 ratio as standard. The test will show if you will benefit from making some changes to your diet to improve your ratio and overall health.

It can take up to 15 working days to receive your results because some of the biomarkers must be analysed in a specialist laboratory.

How to Improve Your Omega Ratio

It’s possible to improve your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio by making some easy changes to your diet, such as:

  • Cut down on your omega-6 consumption: Some vegetable and seed oils are notoriously high in omega-6, including sunflower, corn, and soybean oils. Coconut oil is low in omega-6 but high in saturated fats, so isn’t always a healthier option, but flaxseed, canola, and safflower oil have a healthier balance of omega fatty acids and are low in saturated fats.
  • Increase your omega-3 intake: Be sure to eat at least two portions of fish per week, including one oily variety, such as sardines or mackerel to give your omega-3 levels a boost. If you don’t eat fish, then foods like nuts, seeds, eggs, milk, yoghurt, bread, and some spreads may also include omega-3 fatty acids.

What food is rich in omega-3?

  • Fish: Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, Sardines, Herring
  • Nuts and seeds: Flaxseeds, Walnuts, Chia seeds
  • Plant oils: Flaxseed, Canola, Soybean
  • Fortified foods: Eggs, Milk, Yoghurt, Juices and smoothies

What foods are high in omega-6?

  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Canola oil
  • Walnuts
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Almonds

Written by Leanne Edermaniger

Based in the UK, Leanne specialises in writing about health, medicine, nutrition, and fitness.

She has over 5 years of experience in writing about health and lifestyle and has a BSc (hons) Biomedical Science and an MSc Science, Communication and Society.

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Article references

  1. Borsini, A. et al. (2021) ‘Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids protect against inflammation through production of LOX and CYP450 lipid mediators: Relevance for major depression and for human hippocampal neurogenesis’, Molecular Psychiatry, 26(11), pp. 6773–6788. doi:10.1038/s41380-021-01160-8.

  2. DiNicolantonio, J. J., & O'Keefe, J. (2021). The Importance of Maintaining a Low Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio for Reducing the Risk of Autoimmune Diseases, Asthma, and Allergies. Missouri Medicine, 118(5), 453–459.

This article was written by Leanne Edermaniger

This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Thom Phillips

Thom works in NHS general practice and has a decade of experience working in both male and female elite sport. He has a background in exercise physiology and has published research into fatigue biomarkers.

Dr Thom Phillips

Dr Thom Phillips

Head of Clinical Services