The Greasy Facts of Omega Fatty Acids: Part 1

It seems like all people are talking about these days are these 'omega fatty acids'.  We're seeing it on health blogs, in fitness magazines and touted all over food labels.  What are these mysterious omega's anyways and whats the difference between 3, 6, and 9?  Well these omegas don't have anything to do with your university frat that's for sure. Our friend and founder of the nutraceutical company ND Essentials James Yoon is here to give you the run down of what you need to know.


The beneficial health effects of omega-3 have been well documented in thousands of research studies, and its application in other avenues of health are being explored. Lately, there has been a craze about omega-3, and particularly, fish oil supplementation. 

SO the big question is: are omega-3s really that helpful to your health?   
--> The simple answer is yes.
Before we go much further, I’ve decided to break up this series into 3 parts:
  • Part 1:  compare differences between omega-3, 6, and 9, as well as their food sources
  • Part 2:  the beneficial effects of fish oil either through diet or supplementation, and a review of the potential health effects of EPA and DHA
  • Part 3: the different types of fish oil supplements and which might be a better purchase for you

 What is the Difference Between Omega-3, 6, and 9?

Omega-3:
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning your body needs to obtain it from diet alone.  There are 3 main constituents: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Due to the typical Western diet, the majority of the North American population are likely deficient in omega-3.  Dietary or supplementary forms of omega-3, particularly fish oil, would be helpful in making sure you get enough throughout your lifetime.

While all 3 forms (omega-3, 6, and 9) have been shown to be associated with a decrease in heart disease, EPA and DHA from supplementation (as dietary fish or fish oil capsules) have established better health benefits than ALA.

Sources of EPA and DHA are primarily cold water fish such as:
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Shellfish
  • Herring 

Sources of ALA, on the other hand, are more plant based:
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans and soybean oil
  • Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Canola oil.

Omega 6
Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that are important for growth, development, and overall health. However, they are known to be “pro-inflammatory” when present at high levels.  The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 consumption is around 4:1; but it is estimated that the typical Western diet has a ratio of around 30:1.  This disproportionate amount can lead to pro-inflammatory effects in the body, which in the long run, can contribute to heart disease. 


Sources of Omega-6 include: 
  • Corn, safflower, sunflower, and peanut oils 

Omega-9
The Omega-9 fatty acids are considered non-essential.  This means that the body can create these from other sources of unsaturated fat.  The main and most common source of Omega-9 is olive oil, which is also rich in phenolic compounds.  Supplementation in the form of olive oil has been shown to be helpful in lowering cholesterol, reducing risks of cardiovascular disease, as well as decreasing inflammation (although not as well researched compared to EPA and DHA).

“I’ve heard that getting Omega-3s from plant sources should be sufficient.  Is there any need to supplement from fish oil?”
ALA has been associated with improving cardiovascular health and decreasing risks of cardiovascular disease; however, a lot of these benefits are based on dietary changes rather than supplementation.  An example would be replacing corn oil with flaxseed oil in your diet.  Rather than supplementing with ALA, it would be better to use it as a substitute for your conventionally used cooking oils.

There is an understanding that the body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, which is completely true.  However, the amount of EPA and DHA made from ALA is not likely to be clinically significant; that is, if you have a diagnosed health condition, deciding to supplement with ALA is unlikely to cause observable positive changes.  Even worse, it has been shown that some people may not be able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA as well as others, which further suggests the need for supplementation. 

So rather than relying on ALA as your source of EPA and DHA, it may be a better idea to supplement with fish oil (or DHA-rich algae oil for vegetarians), and using ALA as a substitute for other oils.

References:
“EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)”. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty, 30 Dec. 2011. Web. 1 Jan. 2012.
“DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)”. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty, 30 Dec. 2011. Web. 1 Jan. 2012.
“ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)”. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty, 30 Dec. 2011. Web. 1 Jan. 2012.
“Omega-6 Fatty Acids”. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty, 30 Dec. 2011. Web. 1 Jan. 2012.
“Omega-9 (Olive)”. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty, 30 Dec. 2011. Web. 1 Jan. 2012.
Nazario, B. “Omega-3 Fatty Acid Facts”. WebMD, 30 March 2011.  Web. 1 Jan 2012.  

1 comments:

Isabella said...

It often becomes tough to choose the right food supplement enriched with Omega3 fatty acids, so would recommend you to click here for Omega XL reviews.

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