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Omega-6 and inflammation

Jessie, HK BioTek Intern


Inflammation is a process that helps us fight against harmful agents like bacteria and viruses to heal ourselves. However, uncontrolled inflammation may lead to the attack of our own body cells. Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid is one of the essential fatty acids that needed to be absorbed from the diet. It is often promoted with omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acid is well-known for its beneficial effects on health, like improving brain function and vision. Yet, the function of its counterpart may not be thoroughly understood by the public. Omega-6 is actually crucial in regulating metabolism and protecting the cellular structure, excessive intake of omega-6 will activate the immune system abnormally and lead to unwanted inflammation.


The main product of omega-6 fatty acid is arachidonic acid (ARA). ARA can derive eicosanoids like prostaglandins and leukotrienes, they are precursors of different pro-inflammatory mediators. ARA can induce chronic inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation here does not indicate that your skin will turn red or feel pain but causes chronic diseases. Many of the top death causes are related to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the culprit of NAFLD, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, and even types of cancer. That means too much ARA will bring us closer to developing these chronic lifestyle diseases.


Omega-6 fatty acid is commonly found in various types of oils and food. Here are some examples of food with high omega-6 content.

  1. Vegetable oils (Soybean; Corn; Sunflower Oil)

  2. Nuts (Cashew; Walnut)

  3. Animal liver

Prepacked crispy snacks and fried fast food are rich in omega-6 as they are processed with vegetable oil. These bite-sized finger food are easily reached by us as they are handy and tasty. We may not be aware of taking in an excessive amount of omega-6 from these food sources. Causing the amount of omega-6 fatty acids found in our body fat storage is skyrocketing.


Is it a must for us to avoid all omega-6 intake? The answer is NO. An adequate amount of omega-6 can keep us as healthy individuals. Most importantly, we need to control our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is unbelievably high in populations consuming the western diet, while in the pre-industrial period the ratio is much lower. We are genetically adapted to a ratio of about 4:1 to 1:1, yet we are getting a ratio of 16:1 in our modern-day diet.


What should we do to have a low and balanced ratio? Firstly, we can avoid the consumption of omega-6 rich vegetable oils and opt for alternatives like palm oil and olive oil. We should also consume less processed food that contains these vegetable oils. It may take time to decrease the amount of omega-6 stored in our body, still, it is a perfect way to lower the risk of getting chronic diseases. Secondly, we can eat animal food that is high in omega-3 content. The famous deep-sea fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardine is also desirable source of omega-3. With more omega-3, they can compete with omega-6 for enzymatic reaction and stop omega-6 from producing pro-inflammatory mediators. This can greatly reduce the chance of getting chronic inflammation and so as the diseases.


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