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Omega 6: Omega 3 Ratio

What is Omega 6 and omega 3?

Omega 6 and omega 3 are essential fatty acids and make up an important part of cell membranes. They are a form of dietary fat and are found in abundance in oily fish.

What role do they play in the body?

Omega 6 and 3 are essential fatty acids which the body is unable to make itself. Therefore, they must be taken in through the diet. The amount of fat we eat has a real impact on our risk of developing heart disease. However, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.[1]

A ratio of 3:1 is recommended with omega 6: omega 3. A low ratio can be beneficial and has been shown to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients, reduce the risk of breast cancer, have beneficial effects in people with cancer and has reduced the multiplication of cells in people with colorectal cancer. However, if the ratio increases and becomes too high, then it can have adverse effects.[2]

How does Omega 6: Omega 3 Ratio affect my wellbeing?

A diet which is high in omega 6 and low in omega 3 can lead to chronic health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory diseases.

How can I improve my result?

Western diets contain high amounts of omega 6 and low levels of omega 3 which can lead to an omega 6: omega 3 ratio of 20:1 instead of a low 1:1 – 3:1.

You can increase your omega 3 intake simply by incorporating oily fish into your diet. Some good examples include:

  • salmon
  • sardines
  • mackerel
  • kippers

There is no need to eat high amounts every day but you should try to incorporate them twice a week. For anyone who doesn’t like/can’t eat fish or is vegetarian or vegan, there are plenty of supplements available on the market. You should read the label first to check the source in case of any allergies etc.

A combination of physical activity and omega 3 fatty acid intake can positively affect cognitive performance.[4]

Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of liver injury as well as other illnesses and disorders. You should aim for around 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity per week such as swimming, walking or cycling. However, you should consult your GP before beginning any new training or exercise regime.

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[1] Kris-Etherton, P, M., Harris, W, S and Appel, L, J. (2002). Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation: 106, pp 2747-2757.

[2] Simopoulos, A, P. (2002). The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy: 56(8), pp 365-379.

[3] Simopoulos, A, P. (2016). An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. Nutrients: 8.

[4] Leckie, R, L., Manuck, S, B., Bhattacharee, N., Muldoon, M, F., Flory, J, M and Erickson, K, I. (2014). Omega-3 Fatty Acids Moderate Effects of Physical Activity on Cognitive Function. Neuropsychologia: 59, pp 103-111.

Medically reviewed

This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Nicola Keay.

Nicola has extensive clinical and research experience in the fields of endocrinology and sport and exercise medicine. Nicky is a member of the Royal College of Physicians, Honorary Fellow in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University and former Research Fellow at St. Thomas’ Hospital.

Nicky Keay
Dr Nicola Keay

BA, MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, MRCP.​

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