Are omega-3-6-9 supplements better than omega-3s alone?

Posted September 30, 2014

If you’ve taken a stroll down the supplement aisle of your supermarket or drugstore recently, you may have noticed that there are countless types of omega-3 fatty acid products.  The sheer number of different formats, sources, ingredient combinations and dosage forms can make it difficult for consumers to know which product to choose.

One common question that shoppers have when looking for an omega-3 supplement is: what’s the difference between omega-3 supplements and those containing a combination of omega-3s, omega-6s and omega-9s (referred to as omega-3-6-9 products)? We break down the facts so that you can make an informed decision.

Why we need omega-3s

Before we discuss omega-3 versus omega-3-6-9 supplements, it is important to emphasize that the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are supported by the body of scientific evidence as a whole.  Over 27,000 studies have been conducted on omega-3s to date, making them the most studied nutrient worldwide.  Overall, the evidence shows that omega-3 intake is associated with reduced inflammation and the prevention of certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and the majority of people consuming a Western diet are deficient in omega-3s.

The human body cannot make omega-3s, so we must acquire them from foods or supplements in order to obtain the health benefits. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include many types of fatty fish such as salmon, cod, anchovies and sardines.  Dietary supplements such as fish oil or algae oil are an option for those who do not consume enough omega-3s from food sources.

But what about omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids?

omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3-6-9 supplements: An overview

When shopping for omega-3 products, you may notice that some products are formulated to contain omega-3s in addition to omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.  One might assume that a product containing more fatty acids of different types would be better than one containing just omega-3s, but this is very common (and incorrect!) misconception.

Although omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids are indeed required by the human body for optimal health,the ratio between the fatty acids we consume is very important.  In general, the typical Western diet (which the majority of North Americans adhere to) provides enough omega-6s and omega-9s and not enough omega-3s.  According to the body of research, humans should aim to consume no more than four times more omega-6s than omega-3s (a ratio ranging from 1:1-4:1 of omega-6s to omega-3s).  In addition, excess omega-6 intake has been linked to various negative health effects including increased inflammation and LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol.

Are omega-3-6-9 supplements worth taking?

Is taking an omega-3-6-9 supplement better than taking omega-3s alone?  In short: no. This is because most North Americans consuming the Western-style diet are likely already getting enough omega-6s and -9s, and the goal for a healthier fatty acid ratio is to increase our omega-3 intake and decrease our omega-6 intake.

Choosing a high quality, third party tested product containing an adequate dose of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) is more important that opting for one containing omega-6s and omega-9s as well.

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