Omega-3 Vs. Omega-3-6-9
Many people have heard that omega-3 fatty acids are good for the heart, and that they aren’t getting enough of them in their daily diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, or albacore tuna, twice a week to get enough of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But not everyone is able to include fish in their diets on a regular basis and they may prefer using a supplement such as fish oil capsules or omega-3 capsules. Some companies are now marketing not only omega-3, but omega-3-6-9 and omega-3-5-6-7-9 supplements as well. Is this like a multi-vitamin approach, and is more better? In short, no.
All fatty acids are composed of long chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, joined with molecular bonds. Sort of like “beads” on a string. Saturated fats have a strong string with strong single bonds over the entire length. Monounsaturated fatty acids have just one weak point, one less chemically stable double bond, in the string, allowing them to break more easily. Polyunsaturated fatty acids have more than one weak point, with many unstable double bonds, making them fragile and easily broken.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are also known as omegas. As types of unsaturated fatty acids, they all have at least one weak point in the string. The main three types of omega fatty acids are:
Omega-3 – They are polyunsaturated with their first double bond weak point in the string just after the third “bead.”
Omega-6 – They are also polyunsaturated with their first double bond weak point just after the sixth bead.
Omega-9 – They are monounsaturated and have their double bond weak point just after the ninth bead.
All omega fatty acids play specific roles in overall health, including the health benefits:
- Prevent coronary heart disease
- Prevent stroke
- Prevent diabetes
- Promote healthy nerve activity
- Improve vitamin absorption
- Maintain a healthy immune system
- Promote cell development
Omega-3 is the only fatty acid that is really lacking in most American diets. As for supplements, what you need are fish oil capsules containing DHA and EPA.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Because of drastic changes in our diets over the last 100 years, most people do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids. We’ve removed a lot of fatty fish and grass fed meats, and replaced those with processed foods and vegetable oils which lack these essential fatty acids. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported the majority of U.S. diets no longer contain the amount of omega-3 fatty acids needed by our bodies for overall health and wellness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating 8 ounces of fish a week for its omega-3 benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential for human health because the body cannot synthesize them on its own. We must get them from foods or supplements in order to obtain the health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in three main forms: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The World Health Organization (WHO) and governmental health agencies recommend consuming 0.3 to 0.5 g a day of EPA and DHA combined, as well as 0.8 to 1.1 g of ALA.
ALA is found in flaxseed, canola and soybean oils, and walnuts. EPA and DHA are found in many types of fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, cod, tuna, trout, anchovies, and sardines. Supplements such as fish oil or algae oil are an option for those who do not get enough omega-3 from their food. All infant formula is now supplemented with DHA.
Omega-3 fatty acids may:
- reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, regulate heart rhythms, and lower the risk of arrhythmia or atherosclerosis by lowering triglyceride levels and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, enhancing the elasticity of blood vessels, and preventing the build-up of harmful fat deposits in the arteries.
- reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer.
- help with brain and eye development, improve memory and general mental performance, and help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
- reduce inflammation and enhance joint function, muscle-building, and fat-loss for athletes.
A 10-year study showed that those who increased consumption of DHA/EPA up to 664 mg/day were associated with an approximate 40% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a significant reduction in all fatal diseases.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential for human health because the body cannot manufacture them. People must obtain omega-6 fatty acids by consuming foods such as meat, poultry, and eggs, or nut- and plant-based oils, including canola, corn, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils, which are widely used by the food industry.
Replacing saturated and trans fats with omega-6 fatty acids can help lower the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that 5 to 10 percent of your calories come from omega-6 fatty acids, which represent 12 to 22 g a day. Because omega-6 fatty acids are commonly found in vegetable oils, nuts, and grain-fed meats, most Americans meet or exceed that recommendation.
Unlike omega-3, our bodies are not equipped to handle extra amounts of omega-6. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet are obtained from vegetable oils, such as linoleic acid. Excessive amounts of linoleic acid can contribute to inflammation and increased LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and result in heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, and depression. It can also prevent optimal muscle growth and recovery, as well as inhibit fat loss.
Omega-9 Fatty Acids
Omega-9 fatty acid, also known as oleic acid, is not considered essential, since the body can make its own if it needs it, but omega-9 is also beneficial when obtained through food. It is found in avocados, olives, almonds, cashews, macadamias, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts. It is also found in various oils including canola, olive, peanut, safflower, and sunflower. Most monounsaturated sources of omega-9 also contain high levels of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.
Omega-9 fatty acid has anti-inflammatory properties that enhance joint healing. It also helps provide protection against metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Because omega-9 fatty acid has been shown to increase HDL or “good” cholesterol and decrease LDL or “bad” cholesterol, it helps eliminate plaque buildup in the arteries, which may cause heart attack or stroke.
Omega-9 Canola and Sunflower Oils are uniquely high in monounsaturated fat, low in saturated fat, contain zero trans fat, and reduce key factors that contribute to heart disease and diabetes. These oils are healthier replacements for partially hydrogenated cooking oils, which have unhealthy trans and saturated fats. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a Qualified Health Claim for canola oil saying, “limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1½ tablespoons (19 grams) of canola oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in canola oil. To achieve this possible benefit, canola oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”
A supplement including omega-9 is very rarely needed, since healthy bodies should be able to make their own. If you include olive oil in your diet, that is also likely to provide adequate amounts of omega-9.
Omega-5-7 Fatty Acids
Omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 are not the only omega fatty acids. There are also omega-5 and omega-7, but you do not need to worry about how to obtain enough for your body’s needs. Your body can synthesize most of what it needs from various saturated fatty acids. And they are common in the same foods that contain the other omegas, such as fish, nuts, and seeds.
Omega-3-6 Ratio and Omega-3-6-9 Supplements
Although omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids are required by the human body for optimal health, the ratio between the fatty acids we consume is very important. A balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet allows both substances to work together to promote health. As stated above, too much omega-6 can be harmful.
The current average estimated ratio of omega-6:omega-3 for most people is between 30:1 and 15:1, while experts generally agree it should be no more than 4:1 and as close to 1:1 as possible. This would promote the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 and reduce the pro-inflammatory effects of omega-6. If you use a supplement with both 6 and 3, you don’t reduce your ratio, you leave it unchanged.
When the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 is out of balance, the two fatty acids compete for the same enzymes. The more omega-6, the more they’re going to grab those enzymes. A high omega-6:omega-3 ratio prevents you from getting the full health benefits from omega-3. In other words, you should increase your omega-3 or replace some of your omega-6 with omega-3 fatty acids.
Supplement What Your Body Lacks
Although omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids all serve different functions within the body, the evidence is clear that incorporating balanced proportions of both essential and non-essential fatty acids are necessary for maintaining overall heart health and general wellness.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the most studied nutrient worldwide, with over 27,000 studies that have been done as of 2014. The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are supported by the body of scientific evidence as a whole. Omega-3 consumption can help reduce inflammation and prevent certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and the majority of people consuming a Western diet are deficient in omega-3. Most people consume more than enough omega-6 and their body can produce the omega-9 that it needs.
Omega-3 is the only fatty acid that is really lacking in most American diets. Cook with healthy fat such as olive and canola oils, eat plenty of seafood, sprinkle your yogurt with nuts, and add a few slices of avocado to your salad to get the healthy fatty acids needed by your body and the healthy benefits those fatty acids provide. As for supplements, what you really need are high quality fish oil capsules from a sustainable source containing DHA and EPA.
If you have coronary heart disease, diabetes or take blood-thinning medications such as Coumadin (Warfarin), talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Because of the increased risk of bleeding and the potential slight increase in fasting blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics that have been observed with omega-3 supplementation, medical supervision is advisable and recommended.