Omega fatty acids play a critical role in human health and longevity. These acids are found naturally in the foods that we eat, and they are also available through supplementation. There are different types, sources and ratios of these omega fatty acids, and this article will discuss these three aspects of the, and how you can use these natural components of food to improve your health.
The two major types of Omega Fatty Acids that are associated with human health are the Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Both these fatty acids are known as EFA’s or essential fatty acids, which means that our bodies don’t make them, and therefore people can only get them through food. Omega 3 fatty acids come in three major forms: Omega 3 ALA and Omega 3 DHA/EPA. The human body uses Omega 3 DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, to support the brain, eyes and nervous systems. It is anti-inflammatory for the brain, and can also can help those who have concussions and brain injuries to heal faster. In fact, our brains are actually made of Omega 3 DHA. Omega 3 DHA is also useful for cardiovascular health, and extensive research has caused many experts to recommended that those who wish to decrease the risk of a heart attack or stroke, as well as lower their cholesterol to consume these Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
Omega 3 DHA and EPA ae found naturally in fish, and this is the most common source of these fatty acids. Omega 3 DHA and EPA can be found naturally in purslane, as well as certain algae. For those that do not consume fish or fish oil supplements, there are algae supplements available that contain DHA, and these are suitable for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet. The Omega 3 Fatty Acid ALA is found in foods like flax seeds and chia seeds. Once consumed, Omega 3 ALA is converted in the body from the ALA form to the DHA and EPA forms. DHA and EPA are the forms of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids that are usable and healthful for the body. The major issue with Omega 3 ALA is that the conversion of Omega 3 ALA to Omega 3 DHA and EPA is not very effective, and only insignificant amounts can be converted. This means that if a person is only eating Omega 3 ALA rich foods, they are not getting the proper amount of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids that their body needs, especially if they also are neglecting consuming the DHA and EPA forms.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids are commonly found in the American diet, and dietary sources of them are corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oils. Most processed foods sold within the United States are rich in these Omega 6 Fatty Acids. Omega 6 Fatty Acids do play a role in health, however when these fats are consumed in abundance, they are pro-inflammatory. Omega 6 Fatty Acids when consumed in proper amounts are supportive of metabolism, bone health, brain health, lowering blood pressure, and are anti-inflammatory. It is recommended that their consumption is minimized and also balanced by consuming Omega 3 Fatty Acids. The balanced ratio that is currently advised is a 1:1 ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids. People living in the United States typically do not need to supplement with any Omega 6 Fatty Acids, as the American diet is already supplying people with more than enough of these Omega 6 Fatty Acids, so much that it is actually proinflammatory for most people.
Omega 9 Fatty Acids are found in most plant and animal fats. These fatty acids are considered non-essential and are made within the body, therefore supplementation is not typically recommended. These fatty acids are monounsaturated fatty acids and can be found in olive oil, nut oil, almonds, canola oil, and sunflower and safflower oil. These fatty acids are mainly supportive of healthy cholesterol levels, but only when consumed in moderation.
The general takeaway from this information is that Omega DHA and EPA consumption should be maximized, while Omega 6 consumption should be minimized. It is also useful to reduce the intake of Omega 3 ALA rich nuts, seeds, and oils, as these foods are also high in the Omega 6 fatty acids, which will skew the ideal 1:1 ratio. Omega 9’s are made naturally within the body, and are easily found in the standard American diet. For those who wish to consume fish and fish oil to acquire Omega 3 DHA and EPA Fatty Acids, remember to consume small wild caught fish to minimize the health risks associated with eating seafood (contamination is common in larger seafoods as well as farmed varieties of fish) and to maximize nutrient consumption (wild caught fish yield higher DHA and EPA content). For those who wish to receive the benefits of the DHA and EPA without consuming animals or animal products, there are algae supplements that contain plant-based forms of DHA and EPA. Omega 6 Fatty Acid intake should overall be reduced, so the therapeutic effects of the Omega 6 Fatty Acids can be experienced, as opposed to the inflammatory effect that high amounts can induce. Ideally a 1:1 ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids should be present in the diet. Omega 9 intake is not as critical to the body, given that the body produces these fatty acids on its own.