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What is the difference between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids?

Q: What is the difference between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids? Are they both equally good for me?

A: Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are members of the essential fatty acid family. Although both are necessary for good health, a proper balance is important for supporting heart, joint, mental, and skin health. Most Americans get too many omega-6 fatty acids (found in many vegetable oils) and not enough omega-3s (found in cold-water fish, green leafy vegetables, walnuts, and flaxseed).

Considering the trend in the average diet, it would make sense to focus on adding more omega-3 fats to your diet or supplement regimen. The exception is a type of omega-6 fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid). Although GLA can be made by the body, its production is hampered by many elements of a modern lifestyle, such as stress, sugar intake, alcohol, saturated fats, and the aging process. Borage oil and evening primrose oil both provide readily absorbable GLA.

This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, author of The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).

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