Regardless of how much you may know or not know about nutrition in general, you are certainly familiar with omega fatty acids, at least, to some extent. Different TV and newspaper commercials advertising dietary products keep mentioning this term. However, being aware of a term and knowing what it actually means are two totally different terms. This article will try to clarify and explain what exactly omega fatty acids are, how they behave and what they do in our body and, finally, the most important differences when it comes to omega 3 and omega 6 acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids play a crucial role in many important functions of your organism and maintaining proper levels is of utmost importance. Researchers have connected insufficient levels of omega 3 acids with numerous health disorders like depression, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as well as ADHD. Similarly, a part of the brain called amygdala, which is in charge of emotions like anxiety and anger, is highly influenced by the omega 3 levels. Analyses show that people with lower levels are more prone to anxiety and demonstrate higher stress levels.
Omega 3 Benefits
Omega 3 are essential fats that body can only receive from certain types of foods like different types of fish, vegetable oils, flax seeds and certain vegetables. There are three main types of omega 3 acids:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – mostly found in nuts and vegetable oils, as well as some animal fat.
- EPA – usually coming from fish.
- DHA – also most commonly attained by eating fish.
While ALA is generally used for energy by the body, conversion for the other two types is very limited.
DHA and EPA play an essential role in brain development and functioning. This is why a proper balance of these acids in the body can play a key role in preventing a development of Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms. A part of the brain in charge of memory, called hippocampus, is shielded by omega 3 acids and some studies have shown that people with insufficient levels of these acids have a smaller hippocampus than those with higher levels.
Another beneficial aspect of omega 3 acids is improving cardiovascular health. Higher levels of these acids seem to be directly proportional to lower risk of developing different cardiovascular diseases. This effect is caused by a combination of factors like lowering blood pressure and triglycerides, reducing inflammation etc.
Omega 6 Benefits
The other important group of fatty acid, omega 6 also play a very important role for your overall health. People who mostly consume western cuisine should probably not worry about low intake of omega 6 acids, as food like corn, sunflower oil and animal fat, which are very prominent in the western diet, abound in these acids.
There are two main distinguishable types of omega 6 acids:
- AA – arachidonic acid
- LA – linoleic acid
When talking about benefits of omega 6, there are three main areas to emphasize, first and foremost being cell growth. For this particular reason, AA is often added to baby food formulas as this is the most crucial time for development of the brain and muscular cells.
LA is in charge of the production of hormone-like messengers. These messengers trigger immune responses, impact mood changes, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA), schizophrenia and more. Similar messengers produced by AA are essential for feelings of pain, swelling, inflammation etc. Although this may not seem like a good thing, all these are in fact signals in your body that something is wrong and these signals serve to prevent further injuries or damage.
Omega 6 acids also play an important role in the transmission of nerve impulses.
It is clear that omega 6 play an important role in our organism, but this is only true when things are just right. If omega 6 levels become too high, there is potential for many unwanted complications. If these usually beneficial signals, like pain or inflammations, are not turned off right after the danger is gone, our body is faced with a whole new problem caused by very acids in charge of keeping things in order.
The reason why omega 3 and omega 6 are considered in the same context is because they can only work together. Without omega 3 acids, omega 6 signals cannot be turned off and inevitable health complications will follow.
Omega 3 vs Omega 6
As we can see, both of these types of fatty acids have a crucial role in functioning of our bodies, and although they are essentially different types, they can only work together and a healthy balance is crucial for maintaining proper functions.
Perfect omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is about 2 : 1. This ratio should provide for nearly perfect balance and prevent any problems. However, as we have mentioned, our diet is often very rich in omega 6 acids, while omega 3 are only contained in certain types of food that we have to actually plan into our daily diets.
According to some researchers, it is not uncommon for an average person today to actually take in about 15 times more of omega 6 than omega 3 acids. This creates an unbalance that can actually negate all the potential benefits.
This is why omega 3 and omega 6 is such an important topic in this day and time. Too much omega 6 acids will block omega 3 activity and this can lead to serious health complications. Therefore, it is advised to consciously try to consume the smallest necessary amounts of omega 6 while supplementing your diet with as many omega 3 rich foods as possible.
Introducing more fish to your diet will go a long way towards achieving a good balance, especially if you try at the same time to avoid as much as possible some of the common products like sunflower oil. This way you will avoid much health related issues down the road and will also get to enjoy some new food recipes that you might actually find quite tasteful.
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Image One By Health Gauge – https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthgauge/12172209976/
Image Two by Health Gauge – https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthgauge/10136239236/
Image Three by Khaldaa Photographa – https://www.flickr.com/photos/khaldaa/8559925165/