Fatty acids are of two types, saturated fats and unsaturated/polyunsaturated fats. The former is found in processed foods and isn’t healthy at all, and may lead to various health issues. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are healthy and required in moderation. Two of these are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are found naturally in food but can also be taken as supplements of the various health benefits of omega-3. In this article, we will look at the various Omega 3 & Omega 6 Benefits and more information about them.
What is Omega-3?
As mentioned, we will talk about the benefits of omega 3 & omega 6 in this article. However, before we begin, there needs to be an understanding of these fats. Firstly we will begin with omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are a fatty acid family, and they play a very important role in the human body and provide many different health benefits. Since these are not produced by the body, it is important for us to get them from our diets or supplements.
There are three important types of omega-3, and they are ALA, alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, docosahexaenoic acid. DHA and EPA are found in algae and animal foods, while ALA is found in plants mainly.
Foods that are high in omega-3 include walnuts, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, fish oils, etc. We will look into this in more detail further in the article. For those that do not eat much food that is rich in omega-23, it is recommended that they take a supplement like algal oil or fish oil.
As mentioned, there are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
Alpha-linolenic acid is the omega-3 fatty acid that is most commonly found in your diet. The body uses this for energy generally, but ALA can also be converted into the forms of omega-3 that are biologically active, EPA and DHA. But this process of conversion is inefficient as only a small percentage of ALA gets converted in this manner.
ALA is in foods like soybeans, hemp seeds, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed oil, and flax seeds.
Eicosapentaenoic acid is found in animal products mainly, like fish oil and fatty fish. But you can find EPA in some microalgae as well. It has various functions in the body, and some of it can be converted further into DHA.
Docosahexaenoic acid is the most important omega-3 fatty acid that there is from the three that have been mentioned. It is a key structural component of many body parts like the brain and the retina of the eyes. Just like EPA, it is mainly found in animal products like fish oil and fatty fish. You can also find DHA in dairy, eggs, and meat that comes from grass-fed animals.
Vegans and vegetarians often lack the necessary amount of DHA as it is not plant-based by extremely important, so it is suggested that they take microalgae supplements to ensure that they have enough omega-3 in the body.
Benefits of Omega 3
As mentioned in this article, we will look at omega 3 & omega 6 benefits. In this section, we will cover the many omega 3 benefits that there are.
Depression and Anxiety
Studies indicate that those who consume omega-3 regularly in their diet or as supplements are less likely to be depressed. And if those with anxiety and depression do take this supplement, it can help in improving their symptoms. From the three types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA is said to be the most helpful when it comes to helping with fighting depression.
As mentioned, DHA is a significant structural component when it comes to the retina of the eye, among other body parts. There may be issues with vision if not enough DHA is in your diet. Another aspect is that enough omega-3 can help in reducing the risk of muscular degeneration, something that is one of the leading causes of blindness and permanent eye damage.
Brain Health During Pregnancy and Early Life
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that accounts for about 60% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the retina of the eye and 40% in the brain. This means that those infants that are fed formula with DHA have better eyesight as compared to those that have a formula without.
Plenty of omega-3 taken during pregnancy is associated with many different benefits for the child, like:
- Reduces the risk of cerebral palsy, autism, and ADHD.
- Reduces the risk of delays with development.
- Lesser behavioural problems are seen.
- Better skills for communication and socialisation.
- Higher levels of intelligence.
Improve Heart Disease Risk Factors
Heart attacks and strokes are one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Research suggested that, interestingly, those communities that ate a lot of fish had low rates of these diseases. This was linked to omega-3, and since then, these fatty acids have been associated with heart health.
There can be a major reduction in the range of 15-30% in triglycerides by omega-3.
- Blood pressure
Blood pressure levels can be reduced with omega-3.
- ‘Good’ HDL cholesterol
Omega-3 can raise HDL levels.
- Blood clots
Omega-3 helps in preventing blood clots by keeping blood platelets from getting clumped together.
Omega-3 prevents plaque that can harden and restrict your arteries by keeping them free from damage.
Omega-3 can reduce the production of those substances in the body that are released during the inflammatory response of the body.
ADHD is a behavioural disorder, and studies show that children with ADHD have lower omega-3 levels. Enough omega-3 taken in can help in reducing the symptoms that come with ADHD. Research also suggests that one of the most promising treatments for ADHD is fish oil supplements.
Foods that are rich in Omega-3
There are many omega 3 & omega 6 benefits, and in this section, we will talk about the foods that are rich in omega-3. Some of these foods you may find in your kitchen and some others you may need to incorporate into your diet, or you may want to take supplements based on the recommendations of a healthcare professional.
It is important to have a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in your food, especially as some diets have more of the latter and less of the former. This imbalance is unhealthy and would need to be rectified.
Most organisations recommend that the dose for healthy adults is a minimum of 250-500 gms of omega-3 fatty acids in a day. This can be from fatty fish, many high-fat plant foods, algae, etc. Let’s talk a little more about what foods you can eat for this.
- A good chunk of the food that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids is fish. We will talk about three of these. Firstly, we have mackerel that is rich in nutrients and is a great source of omega-3. Salmon is one other source and is also one of the foods that are most nutrient-dense. Both have large amounts of selenium and B vitamins.
Sardines are another tiny fish that are highly nutritious, particularly when they are eaten whole. They have almost every single nutrient that your body would need alongside selenium, vitamin B12 like mackerel has, and vitamin D like salmon has.
- Next, we have cod liver oil, something that comes from the livers of codfish, as the name suggests. This is not exactly food like the fish we mentioned, but it is more of a supplement and is generally taken as such. This is an oil that is rich in omega-3 and also has vitamins A and D, but too much of it can be harmful, so it should be taken in moderation.
- Seeds are another great source of omega-3 fatty acids and really should be incorporated into your diet. Flax seeds are the richest whole-food source of ALA and are therefore generally used as a supplement for omega-3.
These seeds are a great source of nutrients like magnesium and fibre. The seeds also have both omega 3 & omega 6 benefits when compared to other seeds. Chia seeds are another source and are rich in magnesium, selenium, and manganese, apart from other nutrients.
- Lastly, we have walnuts that are loaded with fibre and have high amounts of vitamin E, manganese, copper and other plant compounds. Don’t remove almonds and eat them whole as the skin has phenol antioxidants.
What is Omega-6?
There are many omega 3 & omega 6 benefits, and both of them are polyunsaturated fats. But the difference is that omega-6 is different as the last double bond of the fatty acid molecule is six carbons on the omega end. Since they are important for your health, they need to be incorporated into your diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids mainly provide energy to the body, and the most common of them is linoleic acid that the body can easily convert into omega-6 fats like arachidonic acid that is longer.
Just like EPA that we looked at before, arachidonic acid produces eicosanoids. But the eicosanoids that are produced by AA are pro-inflammatory, and this does play a vital role in the body’s immune system. But if too many are produced, the risk of inflammation and inflammatory diseases increases.
A healthy ratio when it comes to omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids needs to be in between 1: and 4:1. However, research suggests that those that follow a typical Western diet as it is called consume a ratio that is between 15:1 and 17:1.
Omega-6 fatty acids are greatly beneficial when it comes to treating chronic disease symptoms. An omega-6 fatty acid that is found in certain oils is GLA, gamma-linoleic acid. This includes oils like borage oils and evening primrose oils. When this is consumed, most of it gets converted into DGLA, dihomo-gamma-linolenic, which is another fatty acid.
Studies suggest that both DGLA and GLA have health benefits, as GLA could help in the reduction of inflammatory conditions symptoms. But more research and study is required for this. Another study suggested that supplements of CLA, conjugated linoleic acid that is another form of omega-6, could help in the reduction of fat mass in our bodies.
Benefits of Omega 6
After covering omega-3 fatty acids and what omega-6 fatty acids are, we will continue with the benefits of omega 3 & omega 6 by looking at omega 6 benefits. However, it is important that you do not take too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 as there needs to be a balance. An imbalance can be unhealthy and affect your body negatively.
Here are some conditions that it is said can be helped with omega-6 fatty acids:
- Reduces the risk of cancer
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Increases the HDL levels, that is, the levels of good cholesterol
- Decreases the LDL levels, that is, the levels of bad cholesterol
- Diarrhoea can be reduced in infants. Early study suggests that infants have a lower risk of diarrhoea if their formula supplemented docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid for the very first year.
- Early study also suggests that infants that had formula supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid for the very first year would have lower risks of getting respiratory diseases.
- Arachidonic acid to formula can cause infants to process and grasp information a lot faster, but there was no additional improvement in mental development.
- Tablets that have omega-6 fatty acid along with beta-carotene and other ingredients of that sort could help in improving the rate of healing of the eye post laser eye surgery and could also improve tear production.
- A combination of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids for the first three months for a child can improve their behaviour, spelling and reading for those that have developmental coordination disorder.
- Omega-6 can also help in the swelling of the eyelids that come with problems in the oil glands there. It can help with cleaning the eyelids, eyelid swelling and the blockage of the oil glands.
As mentioned before, while omega-6 is polyunsaturated fat, it should be taken in moderation, and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is to stay within the limit that is prescribed and should not go over. An imbalance of too much omega-6 can actually cause other health problems.
Foods that are rich in Omega-6
It is easy and simple to gain omega-3 and omega-6 from your diet and to get the various omega 3 & omega 6 benefits. Various food items that you eat contain these two; however, you may be unaware of them. It’s important that your intake of omega-3 and omega-6 should be limited. Your body shouldn’t have more than the required amounts of omega-3 and omega-6. If this happens, it’s harmful to the body.
In the section below, you will find some of the food items which are rich in omega-6 fats. If you aren’t gaining enough omega-6 through your diet, you should incorporate these food items into your diet or take supplements as per the recommendation of a healthcare professional.
- One of the richest sources of omega-6 fats is available in your kitchen. Refined vegetable oils, like sunflower oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and corn oil, are a rich source of omega-6. When you cook food in this oil, it makes the food rich in omega-6 too. This is one of the easiest and simplest ways to incorporate omega-6 into your diet.
- Another way to add omega-6 to your diet is to eat nuts like walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and others. They are a rich source of omega-6 fats, and they are good for your body. However, this is a good source for omega-6 only if you aren’t allergic to nuts. In the case that you may be allergic to nuts, it is best to avoid eating nuts.
- There are many different sources of omega-6 apart from those two. One other source is seeds like hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and such. There are several ways you can incorporate seeds in your diet through which you can have a balanced omega-6 in your diet. One of the ways is that you can mix it with other food items and then eat it.
Several institutions give you a guide towards what should be your daily intake of omega-3 and omega-6. The daily intake of omega-6 for men is 17grams and for women is 12grams. This is the required amount for men and women between the ages of 19-50 years.
In this article, we looked at omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are both polyunsaturated fats that are essential for our bodies. We also covered the numerous omega 3 & omega 6 benefits that can help right from early life for healthier bodies. These fatty acids also reduce the risks of heart diseases and promote better eyesight, healthy cholesterol levels and development in infants.
Since our bodies cannot produce omega-3 and omega-6, we need to take them externally for better overall health and development. However, even with this, there has to be a balance and moderation in the amount of these fatty acids that are taken in as too little and too much can be harmful. You can take them as supplements or by eating foods like fish, nuts and using vegetable oils that are rich in these fatty acids.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are both polyunsaturated fats that are also known as ‘healthy fats.’ These are essential for our body, and as our bodies do not produce these fats, we need to take them in with our diet or supplements in moderation.
Fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, along with chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and such, are a great source of omega-3. Omega-6 can be found in sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds etc. But these foods should be incorporated into your diet with moderation and balance.
Omega 3 & omega 6 benefits range from heart health, infant development when these fatty acids are incorporated into formula, better eyesight, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and also in maintaining energy.