Role of omega 3 and 6 long-chain fatty acids in weight management and improving lipid profile

Consuming omega 3 and 6 are very important for your health for several different reasons. Both are essential since they are not synthesized by the body and should be obtained from dietary sources. These fatty acids can affect weight gain or weight loss, it has some protective effects in terms of cardiovascular health and also affects your lipid profile (blood panel which screens for abnormalities in lipids such as triglycerides and cholesterol). This article will discuss how omega 3 and 6 affect weight management, the role of these fatty acids in improving the lipid profile as well where to find dietary omega 3 and how much is necessary.

  1. What are omega 3 and 6?

Omega 3 and 6 are both essential fatty acids since they are not synthesized in the body. Long-chain omega 6 fatty acids include arachidonic acid, linoleic and gamma-linolenic acids. Omega 3 fatty acids include the long-chain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The Western diet is mostly rich in omega 6 fatty acids due to the use of sunflower and safflower oil. Only a small amount of omega 3 is obtained from foods such as fatty fish and plant oil products [1].

Omega 6 and 3 are used by cell membranes for gene expression, protein function, and cellular signaling. Omega 3 competes with omega 6 for uptake into cell membranes. When omega 6 is used by cells, pro-inflammatory markers are released such as leukotrienes, thromboxane, and prostaglandins (increasing inflammation), whereas omega 3 is anti-inflammatory (decreasing inflammation) [1]. 

  1. Role of inflammation in weight management

A study was done by Ramallal et al, assessed the association between yearly weight changes and the inflammatory potential of a diet using the dietary inflammatory index (DII). Seven thousand and twenty-seven university graduates with body mass index lower than 25 were followed up over 8.1 years where 1433 incident cases of overweight or obesity were observed. The study showed that following a pro-inflammatory diet (meaning rich in omega 6 fatty acids) was associated with an increased annual weight gain compared to an anti-inflammatory diet [2].

  1. Role of omega 3 as a cardioprotective fatty acid

Omega 3 also has the following cardioprotective effects: reduces triglyceride levels, reduces non-HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels, and increases HDL (high-density lipoprotein), therefore improving the lipid profile, reducing plaque in arteries, lowers systolic and diastolic blood pressure and improves endothelial function [1].

A study done by Zibaeenezhad et al compared the effect of a certain diet on the lipid profile of two groups of people (106 patients) with hyperlipidemia. One group received 250 g of trout fish twice per week (for dinner and lunch) for a period of 8 weeks and the other group received 2 g/day of omega-3 capsules for the same time period [3].

In both groups, triglyceride levels, total cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol/HDL ratio were reduced significantly following the treatment. However, the intake of dietary fish had a more pronounced effect. HDL levels were increased in both groups with a higher effect in the group consuming dietary fish. LDL levels were increased in the supplementation group, while it was significantly reduced in the group consuming dietary fish [3].

The American Heart Association recommends the omega 3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) for patients with hypertriglyceridemia (excessive amounts of triglycerides in the blood) and cardiovascular disease. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease are specifically high triglyceride levels, low HDL, and high non-HDL levels [1].

  1. Dietary intervention for increased omega 3 intake

Table 1: Adequate intake and omega 3 content of foods

Adequate intakes for omega 3

Gram omega 3

Food item

Serving size

Omega 3 content (g)

Females older than 19 years





Males older than 19 years


Tuna (canned in water)



Breastfeeding women


Spinach, cooked






Pregnant women


Pumpkin seeds



Chia seeds

1 Tbsp


The table summarizes the adequate intake for omega 3. The recommendation for omega 3 is higher in women that are pregnant or breastfeeding. The table above also shows some foods with a high omega 3 content. Fatty fish and plant oil products contain the most omega 3 [4]. 


Following a diet with food sources rich in omega 3 helps to improve your lipid profile by lowering triglyceride and non-HDL levels. Omega 3 also has anti-inflammatory effects which have been shown to lower the risk for annual weight gain compared to pro-inflammatory diets. Omega 3 also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by providing cardioprotective effects.


  1. Bradberry C & Hilleman DE. Overview of omega-3 fatty acid therapies. Pharmacy and Therapeutics. 2013; 38(11):681-691. Available from:
  2. Ramallal R, Toledo E, Martínez JA, Shivappa N, Hébert JR, Martínez-González, and Ruiz-Canela M. Inflammatory Potential of Diet, Weight Gain, and Incidence of Overweight/Obesity: The SUN Cohort. Obesity. 2017; 25:997–1005. Available from: /oby.21833
  3. Zibaeenezhad MJ, Ghavipisheh M, Attar A and Aslani A. Comparison of the effect of omega-3 supplements and fresh fish on lipid profile: a randomized, open-labeled trial. Nutrition and Diabetes.  2017; 7:1. Available from:
  4. Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S., Raymond JL. Krause’s food and the nutrition care process. 13th ed. St Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2012.

Author: Michelle Hietbrink – Registered Dietitian (RDSA)

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