Omega fatty acids have become a buzzword within the world of supplements and vitamins. Many of us have been encouraged, either by our doctor or our television, to increase our level of omegas. What many of us don’t know is how much of each do we need and how do we even get it. Here we will break down Omega-3s, 6s and 9s to shed light on just how much we need.
There is a great deal of confusion about which oils, fish and nuts are healthy fats and which are not. The majority of the population knows some about omega-3 fatty acids and maybe even omega-6 fatty acids, but how much do we know about omega-9 fatty acids and their benefits? Omega-3 and omega-6 supplements are important because our bodies don’t produce these acids on their own. On the other hand our bodies do produce omega-9s, so supplementation needs are generally minimal.
Omega-3s: The Overview
Omega-3s have a host of health benefits largely related to their anti-inflammatory properties. Fats in this category fall into three categories: DHA, EPA, and ALA. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, where ALA is found in certain nuts, seeds, and pastured animal foods like grass-fed beef and dairy.
The most health benefits are seen with satisfactory levels of EPA and DHA, so these tend to be the most commonly included types of omegas in supplements. The benefits of these omegas are vast and they have been show to effectively treat and prevent hundreds of medical conditions and diseases.
Omega-3s: The Good and the Bad
Omega-3 deficiency has become commonplace in many industrialized countries due to the increasing consumption of omega-6 fats found in foods like carbohydrates, processed foods and vegetable oils. The average American has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20:1. Ideally it should be around 2:1. An imbalance in this ratio can lead to systemic inflammation throughout the body, potentially leading to chronic disease. Some of the most common medical conditions caused by an improper balance include:
- High cholesterol
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Macular degeneration
Taking a supplement rich in high quality DHA and EPA can help improve your omega-3 / omega-6 balance, leading to better overall health. In addition to minimizing inflammation and warding off chronic illness, omega-3s have also been linked with improved weight loss, supporting a healthy pregnancy, athletic recovery and thickening of hair and nails.
Omega-6s: The Overview
Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential fatty acids, however they have a much more sordid reputation than their omega-3 counterparts. Our bodies need omega-6s because they are not naturally made in the body. They are consumed through what we eat and play an important role in brain function and body growth and development. This polyunsaturated fatty acid helps to stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and support the reproductive system. There are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids, with the most common forms coming from food like vegetable oil, carbohydrates and processed foods.
Omega-6s undoubtedly have earned a bad reputation by the masses over the past twenty years. This is in large part because some omega-6 fatty acids tend to stimulate cellular inflammation. Studies on the function of these fatty acids have found that elevated amounts of omega-6 fatty acids may play a role in a variety of illnesses and diseases.
Historically omega-6s were one of the good guys. They played an important role in health and development when balanced with omega-3s. Over the past few decades the average diet of Americans has seen a drastic change. Now, the typical American diet tends to contain 15 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance has led to omega-6s earning the role of the dietary villain.
Omega-9s: The Overview
Omega-9 fatty acids are a part of the classification of unsaturated fats that are found in vegetable and animal fats. They are also known as oleic acid, or monounsaturated fats, and can often be found in things like canola oil, safflower oil, olive oil, mustard oil, nut oils and, and nuts such as almonds. What sets this acid apart for the 3s and 6s is that the body regularly produces omega-9 fatty acids. So, why worry about our levels of omega-9?
Omega-9s: The Good and the Bad
It is important to understand these self-produced fats because they offer a great number of benefits to our bodies. They may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. They have also been associated with increased energy levels, decreased levels of anger and an enhanced mood. Some recent studies have even found that is may help people living with neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and adrenoleukodystrophy (a serious genetic disorder affecting the adrenal glands, spinal cord and nervous system). For anyone who is at risk for these diseases, it might be helpful to increase the level of omega-9 in the body.
Balancing the Omega’s
In order to balance omega levels, many people have started to adhere to the “Mediterranean diet”. The Mediterranean diet includes limited amounts of meat and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as whole grains, fresh produce, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption. Research on this new trend shows that people who follow these dietary guidelines are significantly less likely to develop heart disease and a host of other illnesses. By adhering to a well-balanced diet and taking a high-quality daily supplement that fixes the omega 3 / omega 6 ratio you cam significantly decrease your chances of developing a number of illnesses.