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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, in infant formula 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.

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 listings for gamma linolenic acid, as well as evening primrose, borage, and black currant.

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...

  • Heart disease. Most research shows that higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids doesn't reduce the risk of heart disease or heart-related adverse events. There is some evidence that different kinds of omega-6 fatty acids might affect the heart and blood vessels differently. But this still needs to be confirmed.
  • Infant development. Adding the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid along with an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to infant formula does not seem to improve brain development, vision, or growth in infants.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). Taking omega-6 fatty acids does not seem to prevent the progression of MS.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Decline in memory and thinking skills that occurs normally with age. Early research suggests that people who have more omega-6 fatty acid in their body or eat more omega-6 fatty acid in the diet might be less likely to have a decline in memory and thinking skills with age.
  • 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.
  • Eyelid swelling (blepharitis). People who eat a moderate amount of omega-6 fatty acids seem to have a lower risk of developing a specific form of eyelid swelling. But eating the highest amount doesn't seem to help. Taking an omega-6 fatty acid supplement might help improve symptoms such as cloudiness in people with eyelid swelling. But higher quality research is needed to confirm.
  • A motor skill disorder marked by clumsiness (developmental coordination disorder or 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.
  • Diabetes. People who have a higher amount of a certain omega-6 fatty acid in their body are less likely to develop diabetes than people with lower amounts. But getting more omega-6 fatty acids from supplements or the diet doesn't seem to reduce the risk of diabetes.
  • Diarrhea. Early research suggests that infants fed formula supplemented with an omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid and an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for the first year of life have a lower risk of diarrhea.
  • Dry eye. Higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids is not linked with a reduced risk of dry eye.
  • High blood pressure. Healthy people who eat more omega-6 fatty acids might have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure. But higher dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure in people with diabetes.
  • Recovery from laser eye surgery (photoreactive keratectomy). Early research shows that taking omega-6 fatty acids along with beta-carotene and B vitamins might help with recovery from laser eye surgery.
  • Infection of the airways. Early research suggests that infants fed formula supplemented with an omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid and an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for the first year of life have a lower risk of airway infections.
  • 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?

Omega-6 fatty acids are found everywhere in the body. They help with the function of all cells. If people don't eat enough omega-6 fatty acids, cells won't work properly. Too much omega-6 fatty acids can change the way cells react and have harmful effects on cells in the heart and blood vessels.

Are there safety concerns?

When taken by mouth: 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. Higher intakes are POSSIBLY UNSAFE as they might increase the risk of having a very small infant or having a child with eczema. There isn't enough reliable information to know if omega-6 fatty acid supplements are safe to use when pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

A lung disease that makes it harder to breathe (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD): Omega-6 fatty acids can make breathing more difficult in people with COPD. Do not use omega-6 fatty acids if you have COPD.

Diabetes: High intakes of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure in people with diabetes. Until more is known, do not use omega-6 fatty acid supplements if you have diabetes.

High triglycerides (a type of fat): 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.


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


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Last reviewed - 06/28/2021