Benefits of Omega-3, 6, 9: Why is the Right Ratio Important?
Out of the many nutrients required by the human body, omega fatty acids are vital supplements that offer a range of health benefits.
What are Omega Fatty Acids?
Omega fatty acids are the “good guys,” the family of fats that are required by our body. The human body cannot prepare some of these fats, and therefore, we need to have as a part of our diet or supplements.
What Do Omega Fatty Acids Do?
Omega fatty acids benefit us in several ways - Besides acting as precursors to many substances, like hormones, Omega-3 and 6 help build cell membranes, reduce inflammation, cell proliferation, clotting of blood and much more.
Types of Omega Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are classified into two categories – saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fatty acids are the fats with a single bond between their molecules and are saturated with hydrogen molecules, e.g., coconut oil, butter, cheese, palm oil, etc.
On the other hand, unsaturated fatty acids are the fats with one or more double or triple bonds between the molecules, e.g., fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon; vegetable oils like sunflower, canola or corn, peanut oil, and butter, etc.
While saturated fats can increase the levels of bad cholesterol and in turn, elevate the risk of heart disease, the unsaturated fats are known to provide health benefits.
Out of the many types of omega fatty acids, Omega-3, 6 and 9 are three popular types. Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids (also called essential fatty acids) are the families of polyunsaturated fats that our body can’t make by itself and need to be taken in other forms (food or supplements). Omega-9 fatty acids are the families of monounsaturated fats that our body can synthesize from any unsaturated fat we eat.
These three omega fatty acids have their own individual sets of benefits.
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats, as our body can’t make them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one should have at least two portions of oily fish per week - salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, swordfish, pollock, etc. - rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA. Also, green leafy vegetables including spinach and kale, flaxseed oil, chia seed oil, walnut oil, avocados are sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 deficiency makes our body prone to health issues throughout life:
- It has been observed that babies with omega-3 deficiency have insufficient levels of fats to support eye and brain development.
- Omega-3 deficiency in school-age children causes behavioral and attention problems.
- In teenage years, it can cause mood changes with a risk of depression onset.
- In adulthood, it causes susceptibility to anger and irritation. While older adults with low omega-3 levels are at a higher risk of memory problems, early onset of dementia and stroke, the deficiency at any age can lead to higher risks of mental health issues including bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.
Amongst the range of omega-3 fats, three most common fats are:
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – This 20-carbon fatty acid helps reduce inflammation and depression symptoms by producing chemicals called eicosanoids.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – A 22-carbon fatty acid that is crucial for normal brain function and development and makes up to 8% of brain weight.
- Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) – The body mainly uses this 18-carbon fatty acid for energy. It can be converted to EPA and DHA. However, the process is not very efficient.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefits
Besides being a crucial part of human cell membranes, Omega-3 fatty acids are known to perform many important functions –
- Support mental health - Reduces symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and risk of psychotic disorders.
- Improve heart health - Increases HDL cholesterol and reduce blood pressure, triglycerides and arterial plaque formation.
- Help decrease liver fat.
- Supports healthy weight management
- Reduce inflammation.
- Support brain development in infants.
- Promote bone health.
What Are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Omega-6 are also polyunsaturated fatty acids that our body cannot make. They are mainly used as sources of energy. Linoleic acid is the most common omega-6 fat. It can be converted into longer omega-6 fats like arachidonic acid (ARA) and is further used to produce pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Though these eicosanoids are important chemicals in the immune system; their excess production can increase inflammation and can result in inflammatory disease.
Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower, grapeseed, cottonseed oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, almonds, cashew nuts.
There are different types of omega-6 fatty acids. Some of them are
- Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) –Found in borage oil and primrose oil, it is converted to another fatty acid named dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) after consumption. Studies reveal multiple benefits of GLA including a significant reduction of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – According to a study, daily CLA supplementation effectively reduces body fat mass.
What Are the Health Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 also provides a range of benefits to the human body.
- Helps reduce nerve pain.
- Reduces blood pressure.
- Supports bone health.
- Lowers risk of heart disease.
- May help reduce symptoms of ADHD.
- May help treat Rheumatoid Arthritis.
What Are Omega-9 Fatty Acids?
Omega-9 are monounsaturated fatty acids that aren’t strictly essential. Our body can produce them. Omega-9 fats are the most abundant fats in most cells in the body. Consuming foods rich in omega-9 fatty acids over other types of fats can have a range of health benefits. Omega-9 fatty acids are more heat stable than omega-3 and 6, making them much more suitable for cooking.
Omega-9 fats are common in vegetables & seed oils and nuts & seeds. Sources of omega-9 fatty acids include olive oil, rapeseed oil, almond oil, cashew nut oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, and walnuts.
What Are the Health Benefits of Omega-9 Fatty Acids?
Omega-9 benefits health and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. In the absence of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, or if someone has low levels of omega-3 and 6, our body uses omega-9. Though omega-9 can be used instead of omega-3 and 6; it isn’t really as efficient.
What Is the Difference Between Omega-3, 6 and 9?
Though omega-3, 6 and 9 are all unsaturated acids with health benefits, they are different from each other with respect to the type and position of their chemical structures - double bonds - and hence, also differ in their properties and health benefits.
Omega-3 and 6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids - “Poly” meaning many and “unsaturated” signifying double bonds.
Omega-3 refers to the position of the final double bond in the chemical structure and it is three carbon atoms from the “omega” or tail end of the molecular chain.
Omega-6 differs from omega-3 such that the last double bond is six carbon atoms from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule.
Omega-9 are monounsaturated fatty acids which means that they have only one double bond. It is located nine carbon atoms from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule.
While Omega-3 and 6 cannot be synthesized by our body and are called essential fats, omega-9 can be produced by our body.
What are Omega-3 6 9 Fatty Acid Supplements?
With many benefits for all stages of life, omega-3, 6 and 9 are vital for a human body and our body cannot make all that’s needed - we need to get them from external sources. It’s a well-researched fact that the western diet doesn’t fulfill omega-3 essential fats requirements, making the supplement form of each of these essential fatty acids a necessity.
Omega-3 and 6 are needed for performing fundamental body functions and are important structural components for cell membranes.
Omega-3 6 9 supplements benefits encompass the benefits provided by individual fatty acids. They offer an adequate and balanced amount of all three types of fatty acids to help us stay healthy. These supplements can be effective for overall well-being and help:
- Maintain good cholesterol levels
- Maintain cardiovascular health
- Increase circulation
- Keep skin healthy and glowing
- Enhance brain function
- Improve mood
- Support healthy growth and development
This might lead to a natural question...
Why not just take these three supplements separately and reap the benefits?!
There’s a catch! You need to take these fatty acids in the right proportion, and yes, it matters the most!
Excess of omega-6 may make your blood clot, may increase inflammation and make cells proliferate, while omega-3 does the exact opposite. Thus, they both need to work in tandem to keep your body in check. Research shows that the western diet which lacks omega-3 but has an excess of omega-6, needs to be augmented with supplements that balance these two, and at the same time have a healthy dose of omega-9. The ideal omega-3 6 9 proportions are 2:1:1 and are offered by supplements.
Crucial for healthy body functions and growth, in the right ratio, Omega-3, 6 and 9 supplements can help your customers stay healthy and active.
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About the Author: Andrew Goldman
Andrew Goldman is the Vice President of Marketing for NutraScience Labs. In this role, he leverages his 10+ years of experience to develop cutting-edge initiatives for our firm.