Omega’s. 3, 6, 9 …
People hear about ratio, Americans eat too much omega 6 and most of the people eating industrial foods are. But what does this mean? What are the omegas, what is the best ratio and how to get it from our food.
What are omegas ?
The polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential for our body as they contain essential fatty acids (EFA) that needs to come from our diet. There are 2 types of EFA, alphalinolenic acid (ALA) precursor of the omega 3 ( in fish oils and some vegetable oils ) and the linoleic acid (LA) precursor of omega 6 ( mostly in vegetable oils ).
The conversion from EFA to our omegas happen in the liver. The omega 3 are slower to create and the 2 EFA are competing which could lead to an unbalanced ratio between the two omega’s reflecting an omega 3 deficiency. (1)
Omega 9 can actually be metabolized by our body from unsaturated fat and therefore is not called essential, not because it is not important but because it does not need to come from our diet.
The role of omegas in your body.
When deficiency of EFA occurs it leads to red skin, infection, dehydration and liver disease. There are essential for growth and development and are present in high amount in breast milk. (2)
Omega 3 as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are essential structure of cells membrane and play a major role in retina, brain and sperm health. Omega 3 like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) with DHA and ALA are also used as energy sources and eicosanoids formation. Those signaling molecules are vital for the body’s cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems. (3) Omega 3 in general have a positive impact on hypertension, helps preventing cardiovascular disease, heart disease, cancer and dementia.
Omega 6 benefits the cardiovascular system when absorbed in small quantity. Searchers are still studying the different omega 6 and their biochemicals reactions in our body to understand the complexity of the inflammation response when eating in too much quantity. (4) It is said that they do help to maintain our immune system, our skin health, cicatrisation and inflammation responses.
Omega 9 olefinic acid benefits the cardiovascular system with its proved lowering cholesterol effect. It is just the beginning of our understanding on this omega that the body can create but late research have the tendency of proving the benefits of its presence in our food. (5)
How much do we need ? Can we replace them by supplementation ?
Omega 3 is a group of fatty acids, our liver can create them from ALA in a small percentage from cold water fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp, canola and soybean oil but it is essential to get your DHA from food as fish, fish oil and krill oil.
Omega 6 can mostly be found in vegetable oils like peanuts or wheat germ and the arachidonic acid in animal fat and eggs.
The ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 influence their benefits on the inflammatory level of our arteries and therefore our cardiovascular system health. It is recommended to have around 4 gr of omega 3 a day to 8 gr of omega 6 for an optimized anti-inflammatory response. (6)
It is essential to keep your oils, food and supplements in a cool dark place to avoid oxidation as omegas are really fragile and could cause adverse effects when oxidized.
The ecological note.
Sardines and anchovies have a fairly high amount of omega 3. Around 4 gr for 140 gr. As they are small fishes they should not be contaminated with mercury or other pollutant like salmon can be. They also reproduce fairly quickly and therefor are more sustainable. You can find them easily preserved in good quality olive oil that would be also rich in omegas.
Farmed fish are quite often fed on food that will allow them to grow fat but not in omega 3, which is why their flesh is whiter.
On this particular subject I could suggest to get supplementation especially for population that can not offer good quality fish or without good quality products available, especially during childhood for proper brain development and growth.
(1) Jamison. J. (2006). Clinical guide to nutrition and dietary supplements in disease management. Victoria. Australia. CHURCHILL LIVINGSTON.
(2) Stoker, H. S. (2013). General, organic, and biological chemistry (6th ed.). Australia: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.
(4) Patterson, E., Wall, R., Fitzgerald, G. F., Ross, R. P., & Stanton, C. (2012). Health Implications of High Dietary Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2012, 539426.
(5) Massaro. M. , Direct vascular antiatherogenic effects of oleic acid: a clue to the cardioprotective effects of the Mediterranean diet. Cardiologia (Rome, Italy),
(6) Dr Jacob. L.M. (2015). La nutrition raisonnee. Belgique. Resurgence. (translated from French)
(7) Mark. B.J., Beaty. A.D., Slavin. R.G. (2008). Are fish oil supplements safe in finned fish-allergic patients? Allergy Asthma Proc. 2008 Sep-Oct;29(5):528-9. doi: 10.2500/aap.2008.29.3159.