Omega 3, 5, 6 and 9 are fatty acids necessary for good health, some called Essential Fatty Acids, often referred as EFAs.
Omega fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats only found in food. They are considered healthier than saturated fats and have many metabolic functions – from building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve function.
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), and need to be consumed daily. They both interact with each other so the balance between them is crucial for good health; as soon as they are consumed they are incorporated into cell membranes in all tissues of the body. Research shows that Omega-3s (Ω-3, n-3) have anti-inflammatory properties and are indispensable for a healthy cardio-vascular system. On the other hand, Omega-6s have pro-inflammatory properties and are part of the inflammation process; therefore, they are also important.
With the invention of industrial oils (not the car oils type, although, it may considered as bad by many health advisers around the world), the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 has been greatly damaged, and our modern diet can reach a disproportionate ratio such as 1:20. On average, the "American Diet" revolves around 1:12 on average.
The advised healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is 1:1 to 1:2.
The following table represents the main fatty acids found in Omega 3, 6 and 9. Omega 9 fatty acids are not considered essential as our body can manufacture them from other sources. For more information on Omega 5, see below table.
The most important two fatty acids that seem to have the strongest health benefit in the Omega 3 family (only found in any real quantities in oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna) and fish oil supplements) are EPA (Necessary for the efficient functioning of the brain, and cells) andDHA (Healthy development of the brain and vision for young children).
ALA is found in Flaxseed Oil*, Flaxseeds, Hempseeds, Nuts, Avocado, and leafy vegetables. Once eaten, the body converts a small amount of ALA to EPA and then to DHA.
Some studies suggest that they have far-reaching health benefits:
Omega-3s, however, raise Cholesterol in the bloodstream, both the good (HDL) and the bad (LDL).
Always seek medical advice before taking Omega 3s supplements; they can increase the risk of bleeding and may interfere with some other medications and supplements (i.e. Vitamin E…).
When looking at labels of products with added Omega-3s, they may in fact contain a minimal amount of ALA; therefore, using trusted sources of Omega-3s (Fatty fish, flaxseed oil, Linseed oil, Hempseed oil…) is crucial.
Properties: Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Coagulant, Lower blood pressure, Improve Glucose metabolism, Provide protection against cardiovascular disease, arthritis, skin conditions, depression and other mood-related disorders.
Omega 5 is the only known botanical form of conjugated Linolenic Acid, also known as Punicic Acid – one of the most potent antioxidants, found in Pomegranate seed oil.
Properties: Anti-Inflammatory, boosts cellular repair mechanisms, controls and regulates glucose transport at the cell membrane level – a plus for insulin sensitive people, improves digestive health, and greater hormonal balance…
Omega-6s (Linoleic Acid) are found in most Vegetable Oils (Borage Oil contains the most), seeds, pine nuts, pistachio, and Chicken. It seems, however, that we are getting too much Omega-6s from too many sources (salad dressings and sauces, frying oils…), and not enough of Omega-3s (see below).
Arachidonic Acid (Omega-6) is also inflammatory; therefore, it is important to reduce their consumption during highly stress periods, pain, and inflammatory diseases.
Properties: Maintains healthy skin, hair and nails, and is known to help bringing hormonal balance and improving emotional health.
The two enzymes Cyclooxygenase (COX) 1 & 2, and Lipoxygenase (LOX), break down Omega-6s and Omega-3s, respectively, into Pro-inflammatory (Thromboxanes - TXA2, Prostaglandins - PGI2, Leukotrienes - LTC4 and LTB4), or Anti-inflammatory cells. Research brands LTB4 as the most inflammatory cell, and aggravates any inflammatory disease (e.g.Obesity, Autoimmune Conditions, Chronic Stress, Depression, Rheumatoid Arthritis, including Chronic Pain and Inflammation).
Omega 9 (Monounsaturated fatty acid) also has many preventative qualities, and can be found in Olive Oils, Sesame Oil, olives, avocado, and nuts.
Properties: Reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis (Hardening and loss of elasticity of arteries), cardiovascular disease and stroke.
“Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is still one of the healthiest changes [anyone] can make,” says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Yet, further studies are still under way to fully understand Saturated Fats – from vegetable sources (Coconut oil, Palm oil…) – their properties and their actions on our body and overall health. They are able to resist higher cooking temperature and may also be preventive against heart related diseases.
Experts unanimously agree that fish is the main source of Omega-3s and that they are healthy fats. Some, insist that omega-6s compete with omega-3s in the body, so the ratio of these two forms of polyunsaturated fats is very important, with some, like Artemis Simopolous, MD, who directs the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, in Washington, D.C. and widely regarded as an expert in fatty acids, goes deeper: “The ideal ratio is one to one or two to one, omega-6 to omega-3”.
However, not everyone agrees. “The ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s doesn’t matter since both are good [and] is meaningless because it’s good divided by good.” says Harvard University School of Public Health cardiologist Frank Sacks, MD
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that omega-3 was linked to heart disease protection and evidence that a diet high in omega-6s may actually increase cardiovascular risk.
It seems that Omega Fatty Acids are in the middle of a storm; however, most researchers agree that we are getting plenty of omega-6s in our diet and not getting recommended levels of omega-3s.
It is recommended to eat fatty fish, such as salmon, at least twice a week, nuts and seeds, and switch from ‘vegetable’ oils to oils that are a good source of Omega-3s and Omega-6s (Flaxseed oil or Linseeds oil, Hempseed Oil…). Again, avoid Refined oils (and other refined products altogether)
It is important to keep a ratio between Omega-6s and Omega-3s and to not overdosing one on the other – They are both Essential Fatty Acids.
Artemis Simopoulos, Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, D.C.
Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Frank Sacks, MD, Harvard School of Public Health.
Harvard School of Public Health, “Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good.”
Circulation, 2009, vol 119: pp 902-907.
Sabate, J. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010, vol 19: pp 131-6.
Kendal, CW. British Journal of Nutrition, 2010, vol 104: pp 465-73.
Calder, P. British Journal of Nutrition (2010), 104, pp 1575–1576.
Simopolous, A. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 2008, vol 233: pp 674-88.
Dr. Zakir Ramazanov and Dr. John Mathias, study on Pomegranate Seed oil
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: “Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases.”
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Policy Statement: Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents: A Guide for Practitioners.”
American Cancer Society.
News release, American Heart Association.
American Heart Association Scientific Statement: “Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease.”
American Heart Association: “Triglycerides.”
MedicineNet.com: “Omega 3 Fatty Acids Heart Attack Prevention Series.”
Medscape Medical News: “Omega-3 Supplements May Reduce Depressive Symptoms in Patients Without Comorbid Anxiety.”
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