Omega-3 fatty acids are what we call "essential" nutrients. Your body can't produce them on its own, and you have to acquire them from your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids make up about 8% of brain weight. They take part in processes in the body responsible for reducing inflammation and symptoms of depression. They also benefit heart health, the immune system, and the nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids are also an imminent part of human cell membranes. On top of all of that, they reduce the chances of heart attack, stroke, and cardiac death.
Other functions of omega-3 fatty acids include managing blood pressure levels and fats in the blood, thus slowing the development of plaque in the arteries. Some studies have shown that they may even relieve inflammation in some chronic diseases and Parkinson’s.
A long-term low balance of omega-3 compared to omega-6 may cause inflammation and inflammatory chronic diseases. That is because some byproducts of omega-6 are actually pro-inflammatory, but more on that later.
You'll find omega-3 in fish and other foods.
Fish include anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, marlin, salmon, sardines, sturgeon, lake trout, tuna and Mussels. Plant sources include flaxseed, walnuts, chia, hemp, and leafy greens.
Omega-6 fatty acids mainly produce energy in the body. They're also considered essential and must be procured through the diet.
The body breaks down all omega fatty acids into smaller particles. Some of the by-products of omega-6 however, are pro-inflammatory. This may sound alarming but these particles play a key role in the immune system. Inflammation, in general, is a healthy immune system response. Nonetheless, having too much inflammation over long periods may cause chronic diseases, and that's why it's so important to reach a balance between all omega fatty acids in the body.
Your body can transform omega-6 fatty acids into their anti-inflammatory forms. It needs several nutrients to do so, mainly magnesium and zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6.
Omega-6 health benefits are much like those of omega-3. It supports proper cell function, reduces chances of heart disease and heart attack, may lower cholesterol and prevent artery plaque. Combined with omega-3, they minimize cell damage and prevent chronic disease.
A healthy ratio between omega-3 and 6 should be 1:1, but as omega-6 is more easily attainable through diet than omega-3 is, most of us live on a ratio of about 14:1. If you follow a normal western diet, omega-6 is as accessible as the sunflower oil you use for your cooking, the mayo you put on your bagel, corn, or any type of nuts, seeds (especially almonds, cashews, and walnuts), meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. It's everywhere, and most of us effortlessly get more than enough of it.
That does not mean you need to cut back on omega-6. Avoiding processed or deep-fried foods is all there is to it. The right way to go is to obtain more omega-3 fatty acids. You can sprinkle your breakfast or salads with chia or hemp seeds and enjoy a salmon dinner twice a week.
Enjoying the omega master guide? Check out our Master Guide to Antioxidants.
This is the odd one out on our list, as it's the only group of omegas our body can produce by itself. But keeping omega-9 in your mind is a good thing, as studies have shown that a diet high in omega 9 may improve insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation.
Omega-9 will be easily found in foods you already will be consuming if you're keeping an omega-balanced diet. These are olive oil, cashew nut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, almonds, cashews, and walnuts.
Are Supplements the Easy Solution?
Shortly, no. You don't need omega-6 or omega-9 supplements, because most diets already provide you with sufficient amounts of both. As for omega-3, it would be safer and more cost-effective to acquire that from your diet.
Enjoying two portions of fish a week and opting for olive oil in your cooking is enough to make the change. You can also lower your intake of vegetable oil and deep-fried foods.
If you're interested in omega-3 supplements still, here are some guidelines on how to choose the best supplement:
- go for cold-pressed oils
-look for an antioxidant in the formula, such as vitamin E.
-look for high omega 3 content. The minimum should be 0.3 grams per serving.
-fish oil or algal oil is better than flaxseed oil when it comes to supplements.
If you do decide to take a supplement, it is recommended to only take it for 3 months and then take a 3-week break, before going in for another 3-month interval, if necessary.
Check out our master guide on Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4.