For a long time, people thought that fats are bad for your health. Now, we know that fats are actually essential to a lot of processes in your body. There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. What do we know about these? Are they good or bad? And why do you need to know about Omega 3?
Two Kinds of Fats
Food sources with a lot of saturated fatty acids are meat, dairy, cheese, butter and some plant oils (for example coconut oil). The saturated fatty acids in these foods can have a negative effect on your health, like increase you blood pressure.
Unsaturated fatty acids are thought to be more healthy. They are divided into two groups: single fatty acids (monounsaturated) and multiple fatty acids (polyunsaturated). The body can make most of the monounsaturated fatty acids by itself, like Omega 9. But polyunsaturated fatty acids (called PUFA) come from our nutrition. Our body can make some of the components for it but that process is very inefficient. That is why PUFA are called essential fats. In this article we will take a closer look at the PUFA’s, in particular Omega 3 and Omega 6.
Omega 3 and Omega 6
Two important types of PUFA’s are Omega 3 and Omega 6. To understand the importance of PUFA’s better, we need to know their makeup. Omega 3 and Omega 6 contain different types of PUFA’s:
- alpha linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- linoleic acid (LA)
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
- Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)
- Dihomo gamma linolenic acid (DGLA)
The PUFA’s ALA and LA are precursors. Your body can convert these into other types of PUFA, but is a very inefficient process. Less than 5 % of ALA converts into EPA and DHA. Therefore, EPA and DHA are essential nutrients that we need to get from nutrition.
Most of the essential nutrient components of Omega 6 (LA, AA and GLA) come from what we eat, like plant oils and (processed) meat. In the modern world, it is much harder to get the needed amount of Omega 3. So, it is good to know how to up your Omega 3 intake.
Food sources with a lot of Omega 3 are seafoods like fish, shellfish, krill and algae (an important source for vegetarians). These sources contain a lot of EPA and DHA fatty acids. For vegans, ALA is also a great alternative. Food sources with a lot of ALA are lax seed (lin seed), soybeans, canola oils, chia seeds and walnuts.
Omega 3 Recommended Daily Allowance
The World Health Organisation recommends adults to consume 200 milligram of Omega 3 fatty acids daily. You can get this amount of Omega 3 by eating one portion of fatty fish per week. However, the average amount what people will consume is only 75-133 milligram per day. You can use supplements to increase your intake. As mentioned earlier, the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA very inefficiently. And from there, the transition from EPA to DHA is very slow. The other way around, from DHA to EPA, is much easier for the body to achieve. So, if you do need supplements to increase your intake of Omega 3, a DHA supplement is the way to go.
The ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 should be in between 1:1 and 1:5. However, in the modern world the average ratio is 1:16 to 1:20. This has a lot of negative influences on processes in your body. One of these is Resoleomics. The natural mechanism of the body to restore homeostasis after inflammation, injury or illness is called Resoleomics.
Omega 6 plays a role in starting up the inflammation process in order for the body to heal itself. When the recovery process comes to an end, Omega 3 will shut down the inflammation process. To make this process as efficient as possible, it is important to have a good ratio between Omega 3 and 6. If the ratio is out of balance, like is the case in many people nowadays, inflammation processes can continue in the body and disturb the Resoleomics process.
Because of the way most of us live, it is important to get in less Omega 6 and more Omega 3. Especially for people with chronic inflammation diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis. The right Omega 3 and 6 intake can be a natural way to control the inflammation process. When your Omega intake from nutrition is not sufficient, supplements are an option.
Body Processes and Omega 3
Resoleomics is a body process in which Omega 3 and Omega 6 have a very important function. But there are more health benefits to these fatty acids that are essential to our lives. Fatty acids have an important role in keeping our cardiovascular system healthy. They keep the vains flexible, increase the good cholesterol (HDL) and decrease blood pressure and heart rate.
Furthermore, fatty acids have an important role in the cell membranes of the brain and central nerve system. They regulate signal handover and are important in cell division. Especially during pregnancy, it is very important for the neural development of the foetus to get enough fatty acids. And in addition to regulating the inflammation process, fatty acids have also an important role in our immune system.
Evidence-based Health Benefits
Studies have shown a positive effect of fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. And also, cognitive disorders like ADD, ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia can benefit from fatty acids.
There are indications that fatty acids can have a positive influence on diseases like Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Lastly, there are some studies that show a positive effect on mental illnesses like depression, Borderline, anxiety disorders and aggression.
Take Home Message
Fatty acids like Omega 3 and Omega 6 have a very important role in our health system. From our time as a foetus to the end of our life, fatty acids run a lot of processes in the body. In the western world, we get in more than enough Omega 6. However, a lot of people do not get the right amount of Omega 3. It is recommended to eat at least one portion of fatty fish a week (or algae for vegetarians). Supplements (especially of DHA) can be a good option to increase your Omega 3 intake.