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Omega-6 Fatty Acids

What is it?

Omega-6 fatty acids are types of fats. Some types are found in vegetable oils, including corn, evening primrose seed, safflower, and soybean oils. Other types of omega-6 fatty acids are found in black currant seed, borage seed, and evening primrose oils.

Omega-6 fatty acids are used for many conditions, but so far, the best information that science can provide is that putting arachidonic acid, a particular omega-6 fatty acid, doesn't improve infant development. Not enough research has been done on omega-6 fatty acids to judge whether or not they are effective for other uses.

Omega-6 fatty acids are used for reducing the risk of heart disease, lowering total cholesterol levels, lowering "bad" (LDL) cholesterol levels, raising "good" (HDL) cholesterol levels, and reducing cancer risk.

Most of the information we have on omega-6 fatty acid supplements comes from studying specific omega-6 fatty acids or plant oils containing omega-6 fatty acids. See the separate listing for evening primrose oil.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS are as follows:

Possibly ineffective for...

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). Taking omega-6 fatty acids does not seem to prevent the progression of MS.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Early research suggests that taking a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids twice daily for 3-6 months does not improve symptoms of ADHD in most children.
  • Eyelid swelling due to a problem with oil glands in the eyelids. Early research suggests that taking a specific product (Medilar Fidia Oftal Bausch & Laomb Pharmaceuticals) that contains omega-6 fatty acids once daily for 180 days along with cleaning the eyelids can improve cloudiness in the eyes, blockage of the oil glands, and eyelid swelling in people with an eyelid swelling due to a problem with oil glands in the eyelid.
  • Developmental coordination disorder (DCD). Early research suggests that taking a combination of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids for 3 months can improve reading, spelling, and behavior, but not coordination or movement in children with DCD.
  • Laser eye surgery. Early research suggests that taking a tablet that contains an omega-6 fatty acid, as well as beta-carotene and other ingredients, can improve tear production and improve eye healing after laser eye surgery.
  • Improving mental development or growth in infants.Adding arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) to infant formula does not seem to improve mental development or growth in infants up to 18 months old. Infants fed formula with arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid for the first 4 months of life did not have higher IQ scores, but were able to process information more quickly.
  • Respiratory illness in infants. Early research suggests that infants fed formula supplemented with arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid for the first year of life had a lower risk of respiratory illness.
  • Diarrhea in infants. Early research suggests that infants fed formula supplemented with arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid for the first year of life had a lower risk of diarrhea.
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Lowering bad cholesterol levels (LDL).
  • Increasing good cholesterol levels (HDL).
  • Reducing the risk of cancer.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of omega-6 fatty acids for these uses.

How does it work?

There isn't enough information available to know how omega-6 fatty acids work.

Are there safety concerns?

Omega-6 fatty acids are LIKELY SAFE when consumed by adults and children over the age of 12 months as part of the diet in amounts between 5% and 10% of daily calories. However, there is not enough reliable information available to know if omega-6 fatty acids are safe to use as medicine.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Omega-6 fatty acids are LIKELY SAFE when consumed as part of the diet in amounts between 5% and 10% of daily calories. There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking omega-6 fatty acid supplements if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

High triglycerides (a type of cholesterol): Omega-6 fatty acids can raise triglyceride levels. Do not use omega-6 fatty acids if your triglycerides are too high.

Are there interactions with medications?

It is not known if this product interacts with any medicines.

Before taking this product, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Are there interactions with foods?

There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

The appropriate dose of omega-6 fatty acids depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for omega-6 fatty acids. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

Other names

Acides Gras Essentiels N-6, Acides Gras Oméga-6, Acides Gras Omégas 6, Acides Gras Polyinsaturés, Acidos Grasos Omega 6, AGE, AGPI, Huiles d'Oméga 6, N-6, N-6 EFAs, N-6 Essential Fatty Acids, Omega 6, Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, Omega 6 Oils, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, PUFAs.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

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Last reviewed - 10/04/2016