The Omega-3 -6 Controversy

Omega: Too Much or Not Enough?


by Madeleine Beckman

The 2012 National Health Interview Survey, to date, provides the most comprehensive information on complementary health approaches in the U.S. According to the survey, fish oil is one of the most commonly used nonvitamin/nonmineral dietary supplements among adults and children in the U.S. Reasons for fish oil supplementation range from improved heart health to reduced symptoms of ulcerative colitis. However, definitive evidence is lacking to support its use, and the words “may” and “promising” frequently appear in journal articles when discussing omega-3 and -6 supplementation.

Omega-3 fatty acids (generally considered the healthier fatty acids) are essential polyunsaturated fats usually obtained from the human diet. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids (also called n-3 fatty acids): eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and a-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as wild salmon, lake trout, sardines, anchovies, striped bass, and Arctic char. ALA is the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids found in flax meal, chia seeds, walnuts, and flax seed oil. The conversion of ALA to EPA/DHA is limited.

The full InBrief includes:

Good sources of omega-3 include:

Good sources of omega-6 include:

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1.Yokoyama M, Origasa H, Matsuzaki M, et al. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis. Lancet. 2007; 369:1090-98.

2. Leitzmann MF, Stampfer MJ, Michaud DS, et al. Dietary intake of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and the risk of prostate cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 80:204-16.

3. Koralek DO, Peters U, Andriole G, et al. A prospective study of dietary alpha-linolenic acid and the risk of prostate cancer (United States). Cancer Causes Control. 2006; 17:783-91.

4. Willett WC. The role of dietary n-6 fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. J Cardiovasc Med. (Hagerstown). 2007; 8 Suppl 1:S42-5.

5. Mozaffarian D, Ascherio A, Hu FB, et al. Interplay between different polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Circulation. 2005; 111:157-64.







12. AHRQ, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality


14. Brew BK, Toelle BG, Webb KL, et al. Omega-3 supplementation during the first 5 years of life and later academic performance: a randomised controlled trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015; 69: 419–424.


Madeleine Beckman

Madeleine Beckman is a writer and editor specializing in medicine & wellness. She teaches Narrative & Reflective Writing at NYU School of Medicine in the Division of Medical Humanities, and Creative Nonfiction with Denver University. Her books are available online.


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