Essential fatty acids are important for your health, hence their name, essential.
In nutrition parlance, an ‘essential’ nutrient is one that must be obtained through diet, because our bodies are incapable of synthesizing them. Vitamin C, several amino acids, and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) are just a few of the many nutrients we need to obtain from food in order to utilize them.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are popular supplements because of their many health benefits that include lowering heart disease risk, stimulating neurological development in babies, decreasing joint tenderness and reducing the need for anti-inflammatory medications, and even lessening symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder.
The term ‘essential fatty acids’ also includes omega-6 fats. While essential omega-6 fatty acids are readily found in our food supply (animal products and vegetable oils are rich in omega-6), omega-3 fatty acids are less easily obtained – the richest source of omega-3’s are cold-water fish, nuts and seeds, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, to name a few.
Unfortunately, many essential fatty acid (EFA) manufacturers combine omega-3 oils with omega-6 an even omega-9 oils, thinking that because these oils are essential, everyone should supplement with them.
What they fail to recognize is that the average person’s diet is overly stocked with omega-6 oils due to their prevalence in animal products and processed foods. Nutrition experts claim that before the advent of processed foods, our diets contained a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils of roughly 1:1; modern diets now maintain an astounding ratio of 15:1.
This is a problem, because in general omega-6 fatty acids create a pro-inflammatory environment in our bodies, whereas omega-3’s have an anti-inflammatory effect. Excessive omega-6’s promote many diseases including cancers, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.(1)
The only people who should be using one of these combination EFA supplements are vegetarians and vegans, whose diets are naturally lower in omega-6 oils, for the most part.
If you’re not a vegetarian/vegan, it’s highly unlikely you need to supplement with extra omega-6. If you do, you’re only increasing your body’s propensity for inflammatory diseases. Rather, consider supplementing with an omega-3-only EFA product to help relieve your body’s inflammatory burden!
1. Simopoulos, AP. Biomed Pharmacother. 202002 Oct;56(8):365-79.