Hemp myth busting: “Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is critical to health”

Hemp myth busting

You might think it a bit strange that Hemp & Co advocates for the benefits of hemp and yet here we are busting myths about it. Why would we do that? 

It’s simple: we believe in asking questions. We advocate for transparency. We want our products to be supported by up-to-date, verifiable evidence from credible sources. And we want you to feel reassured that you can trust our brand and our products.

Several sources of information suggest that humans evolved on an omega 6 (n-6) to omega 3 (n-3) ratio of around 1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is 15/1 – 16/1.  The common belief (and what’s been advertised) is that we need to have a ratio of n-6 to n-3 of around 3:1 for optimal human health.

This belief is mistaken. It’s the result of conjecture generated by two groups who don’t agree with each other. 

Group 1: the “omega believers”

This group is mainly made up of serious scientists, cardiologists, and epidemiologists who are ardently endorsed by an assortment of supplement manufacturers and alternative health practitioners.  

Group 2: the “omega moderates”

Also, serious scientists, doctors, and nutritionists but this group takes a more balanced view of omegas and their effect on our health. 

The purpose of this article is to discuss the potential value of the n-6/n-3 fatty acid (FA) ratio specifically in prevention of heart disease, and then on inflammation, and other chronic conditions. 

Omega 6 and Omega 3 compete for the same enzyme

Recommendations to lower the n-6/n-3 ratio, are based in part, on the well-known competition between omega 6 and omega 3 for the same enzyme (figure 1) (Harris, 2007) 

Table showing the conversion of omega 6 and omega 3 to powerful eicosanoids

The first competition occurs between n-6 and n-3 during the initial stage when the enzyme delta 6 desaturase steps in. Another round of competition unfolds with delta 5 desaturase, where the powerful eicosanoids arachidonic acid (AA n-6) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA n-3) emerge.

The theory is, is that since the Western diet contains more omega-6 than omega-3, omega-6 tends to outcompete omega-3. This imbalance can lead to a proinflammatory effect, making our bodies more susceptible to inflammation and other chronic conditions (Simopoulos, 2002).   

The proposed remedy? Shifting towards consuming more 'good' fats and fewer 'bad' ones (if you can say omega 3 is good and omega 6 is bad). This strategy aims to alleviate the competition for the same enzyme, potentially fostering a more anti-inflammatory outcome.   

Certain eicosanoids crafted from AA wield greater potency than those crafted from EPA, while others boast comparable strength. Broadly speaking, substituting AA with EPA, thereby diminishing the AA/EPA ratio within cell membranes, appears to mitigate proinflammatory and proaggregatory reactions, at least based on findings from laboratory experiments and animal studies. The AA/EPA measure may offer greater relevance compared to the n6/n3 ratio, as it zeroes in on the two molecules vying for conversion into eicosanoids. But as we will see in the following text it still suffers from the mathematical weakness of ratios.

Theoretical Concerns with Ratios

There are multiple ways in which to elevate a ‘bad’ ratio. A ‘bad’ ratio is one that has too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3.  Depending on whether we change omega 6 or omega 3 and how we change it will have a direct effect on the ratio. Table 1 illustrates what we could do to lower the ratio of a high omega 6 to omega 3 (Harris, 2007). However, unless we had the absolute values of the specific omega the meaning of a given ratio, as a biomarker or dietary target, would be impossible to discern.


For example, if someone tells you that the ratio of apples to oranges is 3:2. Without knowing how many apples or oranges there are in total, it's challenging to understand what that ratio really means. If you have 3 apples and 2 oranges, that's one thing. But if you have 300 apples and 200 oranges, that's a completely different situation! 

A second important conceptual limitation is that the ratio doesn’t distinguish between the short chain or the long chain fatty acids (table 2)

In both cases the individual fatty acid will have a different physiological effect on our health. For instance, the effect on platelet function and blood clotting, or on the lowering of triglycerides. The fact the n6/n3 ratio fails to distinguish between these fatty acids is a fundamental conceptual flaw. 

Finally, a ratio is only of value when specific conditions are met. Those conditions being higher levels of one factor and lower levels of the other should individually be predictive of increased risk. To illustrate this, it is helpful to compare the ratio of the cholesterol LDL to HDL. We know that having too much LDL (bad cholesterol) is usually not good for your heart. So, combining these two into a ratio can help predict your risk of heart disease. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to omega 6 and omega 3 it’s not as simple as cholesterol. The strongest evidence for the benefits of omega 3 is prevention of heart disease (Willett, 2007). So, it might seem a good idea to represent that as a ratio. But actually, both omega 3 and omega 6 fats are linked to lowering the risk of heart disease, just in different ways  (Wang et al., 2016). So, bundling them into a ratio as a predictor of potential heart disease doesn’t really make sense.

How many ratio studies are out there?

There isn’t a lot of data from human studies looking at omega-3 dietary requirements and the influence of omega-6 (Goyens, 2006). However, two independent studies looking at the influence of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 on cardiovascular health unanimously concluded there was no connection between the ratio and increased cardiovascular disease risk. 


The first study, called the OPTILIP, set out to determine the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.  It had 258 participants who consumed various ratios of omega-6 to 3 for a period of six months.  It found no relevance to the ratio and health (Griffin, 2006). 

The second study used an isotope tracer.  That’s like tying a helium filled balloon to your friend’s backpack and watching them navigate the crowded streets of Amsterdam—except in this study it was tied to an alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  This study provided the most definitive evidence that it’s not the ratio but the amounts you consume that counts  (Goyens, 2006). 

What studies support a specific ratio? 

Not a lot, really.  There’s more research on omega-3 than omega-6 but little on the importance of the ratio.  Earlier animal studies showed a ratio of between 4:1 and 2:1 was more efficient at converting ALA. However, a later study by Goyens disputed this, showing it was the absolute amount of ALA, more than the LA/ALA ratio, that influenced the rate of ALA conversion (Goyens, 2006).

In 2008 the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organisation released an expert report summarising dietary recommendations for fat and fatty acids (FAO & WHO, 2008). They stratified four levels of judgement: Convincing, Probable, Possible, and Insufficient, stating they would base dietary recommendations on ‘convincing’ and ‘probable’ evidence only.  This is what they said about the ratio: 

Based on both the scientific evidence and conceptual limitations, there is no compelling scientific rationale for the recommendation of a specific ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids or LA to ALA, especially if intakes of n-6 and n-3 fats lie within the recommendations established in this report.

Even though it’s still not clear how much omega-6 and omega-3 is too much, it is clear that consuming them both is critical for our health (Willett, Eat, Drink and be Healthy, 2001).

So, what’s the bottom line?  I think it’s this: it’s not about the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, it’s about getting adequate amounts of both. And, when it comes to adequate, hempseed oil is, with over 80% polyunsaturated fatty acids, quite possibly your best choice.



Goyens, P., Spiker, M., Zock, P., Katan, M., & Mensink, R. (2006). Conversion of α-linolenic acid in humans is influenced by the absolute amounts of α-linolenic acid and linoleic acid in the diet and not by their ratio. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 44-53.

Griffin, M. (2006). Effects of altering the ratio of dietary n−6 to n−3 fatty acids on insulin sensitivity, lipoprotein size, and postprandial lipemia in men and postmenopausal women aged 45–70 y: the OPTILIP Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1290-1298.

Guy H. Johnson, P., & Kevin Fritsche, P. (2012). Effect of dietary linoleic acid on markers of inflammation in healthy persons: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2212-2672.

Harris, W. S. (2007). The Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and. Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports, 39-45.

Simopoulos, A. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacotherapy, 362-379.

Wang et al. (2016). Association of Specific Dietary Fats with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine, 1134-45.

Willett, W. C. (2007). The role of dietary n-6 fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, 42-45.


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