Omega-6 fatty acids are an essential nutrient, but they’re considerably less useful than their Omega-3 cousins. They have a very similar chemical structure and they’re absorbed via very similar pathways.
There’s evidence to suggest that some Omega-6 fatty acids might support cardiovascular function and joint health (1), but they don’t have the same anti-inflammatory properties as Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA (2).
In fact, some Omega-6 fatty acids (including arachidonic and docosadienoic acid) are actually converted into a class of eicosanoids that’s thought to promote inflammation in your tissues (3) and that definitely isn’t a good thing!
To make matters worse, Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids have to compete for the same digestive enzymes that are used to convert eicosanoids (2) which means that consuming too many Omega-6 fatty acids could actually interfere with the metabolisation of Omega-3.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that Omega-6 fatty acids are absolutely everywhere.
You’ll find them in nuts, seeds, grains and bread. As well as cereals, soy products and almost every type of vegetable oil, which means that most vegans are being bombarded with an overabundance of Omega-6 every single day.
Now, we’re not saying that you should skip out on Omega-6 fatty acids completely. You do need a small amount to maintain the health of your joints, brain and heart. However, there’s a very good chance that your diet is already oversaturated with Omega-6 fatty acids, which means that you definitely want to focus on managing your Omega-3 intake.
Some health professionals think that people in the Western world consume far too much Omega-6, and suggest that our ever-decreasing Omega-3 intake is one of the principle drivers of chronic diseases like:
SUMMARY: Omega-6 is an important nutrient, but it is very common in the western diet (including for vegans). Deficiency in Omega-6 is rare. Omega-3 and 6 compete for the same enzymes, so too much Omega-6 will interfere with the absorption of Omega-3. A combination of increasing your Omega-3 intake and decreasing Omega-6 is recommended.