Omega-6 fatty acids are common fats that most people consume regularly. These include fatty acids like linoleic acid, and arachidonic acid. Such acids are given their name because of chemical composition, which includes a carbon double bond six carbons distance from the omega or last carbon in a chain. The name indicates where the double bonds occur in the chain of fatty acids.
This type of fatty acids are derived in food sources from dietary items like eggs, meat, whole grains, cereals, polyunsaturated oils from vegetables and nuts, and most baked goods. Most often, Western diets do not require supplementation of Omega-6 because they tend to already contain more than enough. These acids are called essential, because they are important to brain growth. Some studies have shown that low levels of may make children more prone to ADD/ADHD.
Frequently, though, we tend to consume a lot of meat and grains. In fact, most medical researchers claim Western diets, particularly those of Americans, the British and Israelis, are far too high in Omega-6. Too high consumption of this fatty acid has been linked to the development of heart disease, asthma, certain forms of cancer, arthritis, and depression. Though some Omega-6 is necessary since they comprise essential acids, too much is definitely a problem.
Studies of Omega-3 fatty acids have shown they may promote heart health, though those taking fish oil that have arrhythmias should consult with their doctors. This type is also considered helpful in the treatment of arthritis, and may further help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. They may also assist with mood balance in people with mood disorders like depression or bipolar. Studies of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are normally consumed with greater regularity in most diets, suggest that it may actually decrease levels of both good and bad cholesterol.
Omega-6 has also been linked to keeping people depressed. A 2005 study published in The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Journal suggests that people may remain depressed when their diet contains a lot of this fatty acid. Their conclusion, albeit done on a rat population, recommended reducing its intake and increasing that of Omega-3.
Many westerners eat about a 10:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3, or in some cases as much as 30:1. Studies suggest that greater health might be achieved if a 4:1 ratio were instead applied. In fact, with people who suffer from chronic conditions like asthma or arthritis, supplementation with Omega-3 and reduction of eating foods like breads and meat, may help improve these conditions.
Thus Omega-6 fatty acids are essential, but often used in excess in the Western diet. The results may lead to poorer health. It should not be confused with Omega-3, which tends to be associated with better health.