When we consume fats, our bodies gradually break them down into fatty acids; they are essential for functioning effectively. But, most importantly, these fatty acids are the true building blocks of every cell in our body! Because of this pivotal role, it's worth adding omega-3-6 and -9 fatty acids to your diet.
Omega 3-6 and -9 are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated essential fatty acids that your body cannot self-produce. Instead, we get these fatty acids from oily fish, nuts, seeds, and oils—omegas aid in reducing inflammation, heart disease, and skin issues, while improving cognitive function.
Before changing your diet, let's first take an in-depth overview of why it's genuinely beneficial, if not critical, to include omega fatty acids into your everyday lifestyle.
What Is Omega 3-6-9?
Did you know that fat is actually your friend?
Fat is an essential component to come by a healthy, balanced diet, predominantly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats - Omegas! They play a pivotal role in supporting our bodily functions on a deep molecular level, like reducing our risk for heart disease, reducing inflammation, fighting cancer, improving brain function, and reducing cholesterol (1, 2).
Omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 are essential fats that play a vital role by offering a wide range of health benefits. However, we must balance these fatty acids appropriately as an imbalance contributes to various chronic illnesses.
According to current estimations, most Western diets have an omega-6: omega-3 ratio of approximately 15:1 to 16.7:1 instead of the 1:1 or 4:1 recommended ratio. The rapid increase is due mainly to the rise in fast foods, consuming excessive vegetable oils, and decreasing fish consumption (3).
Omega oils are unsaturated fatty acids that consist of at least one double bond link between the carbon atoms; these fatty acids are further split into two categories:
Omega-3 and -6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids - they have two or more double bonds in their carbon chain. Note that the omega numbers (3 and 6) only reference how many carbons away from the omega (tail) end of the fatty acid chain the first carbon-carbon double bond appears.
For example, if the double bond in the chemical structure lies three carbons away, it's an omega-3 fatty acid; likewise, if the double bond is six carbons away - you guessed it! -it's respectively an omega-6 fatty acid (4).
Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid - it has one carbon-to-carbon double bond located at nine carbons from the tail end of the molecule chain.
What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
While all fats play a vital role in your body, the most critical fats are those that your body cannot self-produce - we call these fats essential fatty acids.
Essentials fatty acids are beneficial unsaturated fats that your body cannot produce by itself, requiring you to ingest them through your diet or supplements (5).
The primary essential fatty acids are:
• Linoleic acid (omega-6 group)
• Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 group)
Your body can produce omega-9 fatty acids, so it isn't strictly an "essential" fatty acid like omega-3 and -6, but it offers impressive health benefits. Therefore, oleic acid (omega-9 group) is our third essential fatty acid (6).
What Is Omega-3?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats - they have two or more double bonds at three carbon atoms away from the omega (tail) of the molecular chain in their chemical structure.
Unfortunately, your body cannot self-produce this family of essential fatty acids. So, you'll need to consume them through your diet or supplements.
Among the extensive list of omega-3 fatty acid varieties, the three most essential types include:
• Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): EPA is a 20-carbon fatty acid that mainly produces eicosanoids, chemicals that help reduce inflammation, symptoms of depression, and risk of heart disease (7, 8).
• Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): A 22-carbon fatty acid that makes up roughly 8% of brain weight; it contributes to brain development in infants and brain function in adults (9).
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): ALA is an 18-carbon fatty acid primarily plant-based; it benefits the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems (10, 11).
Health Benefits Of Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids have undergone decades of research to determine the true heath impacts. Here are several evidence-based findings on the benefits of omega-3s.
Omega-3s Contain Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Omega-3s contain one of the most potent lipids that help manage inflammation and oxidative stress linked to chronic diseases (12). In addition, the omega-3 fatty acids exert anti-inflammatory effects and aid in lowering inflammation markers (13).
So, increasing your omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to preventing or reducing symptoms of inflammation and chronic diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and heart failure.
Omega-3s Improves Heart Health
Omega-3 fatty acids primarily support heart health by decreasing triglycerides, a lipid that contributes to hardening and thickening your artery walls, which increases the risks of heart diseases (14).
The omega-3 fatty acids aid in lowering blood pressure, and therefore, decrease the risk of strokes and heart failure. More so, they slow down plaque build-up in your arteries consisting of fat, cholesterol, and calcium that accumulate and limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body (15).
Omega-3s significantly reduce the risk of cardiac arrhythmic sudden deaths along with all-cause mortality in patients with coronary heart disease (16).
Omega-3s Support Mental Health
The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids aid in neural development and function; a lack of these essential fatty acids increases the risk of mental disorders like schizophrenia. A twelve-week intervention with omega-3s reduced psychotic disorder progression in young individuals with sub-threshold psychotic states for 12 months compared with placebo (17).
In addition, omega-3s exhibit neuroprotective properties, representing a potential treatment for various neurodegenerative or neurological disorders (18).
Omega-3 fatty acids are effective in improving depression; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) play different roles, but both respectively reduce symptoms of depression (19).
Lastly, omega-3s aid in brain development for infants.
Omega-3s Help To Decrease Liver Fat
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements significantly decrease the amount of liver fat and effectively improve dyslipidemia. In addition, research suggests that omega-3s can optimize liver fat levels in patients with Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, meaning that these fatty acids have therapeutic potential in liver disease (20).
Omega-3s Support Eye Health
Studies suggest that omega-3s (especially DHA and EPA) may help to protect your eyes from:
• Macular degeneration: a condition that leads to gradual vision loss, specifically in the center of your view field.
• Dry eye syndrome: a pretty common condition that occurs when the tears cannot provide adequate lubrication for the eyes.
• Glaucoma: a condition that typically damages the eye's optic nerve.
In a study, the participants who ate oily fish at least once per week had up to half the risk of developing macular degeneration compared to other individuals who consumed fish less frequently (21).
Omega-3 also reduces the risk of dry eye syndrome. For example, a study on over 32,000 women, ages 45 and 84, showed that those with the highest omega-6 to omega-3 ratio had a significantly higher risk of developing dry eye syndrome than the women with the lowest balanced ratio (22).
Omega-3 essential fatty acids can also help drain the fluid inside the eye drain properly, lowering the risk of glaucoma (23).
Food High In Omega-3s
Here is a list of foods exceptionally high in omega-3s; it's worth every penny to add a few of these ingredients to your shopping list.
Fish is your best source of omega-3s! Consider adding the following to your diet:
Add grains and nuts to your cart:
• Peanut butter
• Pumpkin seeds
Fresh Produce High In Omega-3s:
• Brussels sprouts
The American Heart Association recommends consuming a minimum of two portions of fish per week, particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids (24).
If you prefer not to consume many of these food varieties, we recommend consuming an omega-3 supplement like fish oil, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, or algal oil.
What Is Omega-6?
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids similar to omega-3s. However, instead of three, the last double bond is six carbons away from the omega end of the molecular chain.
Omega-6 fats provide energy, lower harmful cholesterol levels, and boost protective HDL cholesterol (25).
The most prevalent omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, which the body converts into longer omega-6 fats like arachidonic acid (AA) (26). However, Omega-6 does not always bask in the same sunny reputation as its counterpart omega-3. AA acid is a building block for molecules that tend to be pro-inflammatory and blood clotting (27). However, AA acid also converts into molecules that fight inflammation and blood clots (26).
It would help if you could achieve a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 1:1 or 4:1.
Health Benefits Of Omega-6
Along with a balanced ratio of omega-3s, omega-6 fatty acids offer a range of health benefits. For example, the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine states that the daily recommended intake of omega-6 is 17g for males and 12g for females ages 19 to 50 years (28).
The main health benefits of omega-6 include:
Omega-6 Can Benefit Skin Health
Omega-6 fats play a critical role in maintaining the skin's moisture levels by reducing trans-epidermal water loss and helping manage common dry skin and eczema by improving the skin permeability barrier. More so, by harmonizing the skin's integrity, omega-6s help the skin cells' maturation and improve its healing rate (29).
Omega-6 fatty acids contain pro-inflammatory properties that reduce severe acne and lesions by lowering inflammation. For example, a study shows that individuals who consumed linolenic acid for ten weeks had reduced acne and lesions (30).
Omega-6 Can Help Reduce Nerve Pain
Pre-clinical studies suggest that omega-6 fatty acids may benefit peripheral nerve function.
A three-year study was conducted on 384 males and 443 females, testing and proving that baseline plasma omega-3 and -6 levels accelerate the decline of peripheral nerve function and increase aging (31).
Evidence shows that omega-3 and -6 are neuroprotective and critical in neurite outgrowth. Both essential fats are vital for peripheral nerve function and health (32). In addition, a dietary intake high in polyunsaturated fatty acids is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson's disease (33).
Food High In Omega-6s
Before aiming to increase your intake of omega-6s, ensure that you have a healthy ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids, preferably 1:1 between omega-3 to omega-6.
Some yummy foods with higher omega-6 fatty acid content includes:
• Safflower oil
• Hemp seeds
• Sunflower seeds
• Peanut butter
• Avocado oil
What Is Omega-9?
Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid - it has one double bond located at nine carbons from the omega end of the molecular chain.
Omega-9 fatty acids aren't strictly "essential" as the body can self-produce them. However, consuming omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids in place of saturated fats offers a range of health benefits.
The most prevalent omega-9 fatty acids are:
Oleic acid: Oleic acid is an 18-carbon fatty acid that helps to improve your heart condition by lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation markers (34). In addition, oleic acid increases energy, enhances moods, and diminishes anger (35).
Erucic acid: Erucic acid is a 22-carbon fatty acid shown to help enhance memory and cognitive function, benefiting those with Alzheimer's disease (36, 37).
Health Benefits Of Omega-9
Omega-9 ultimately benefits the heart and brain. Here is a more in-depth overview of what omega-9 can offer to your health.
Omega-9 Can Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease
Research shows that omega-9 fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. These fatty acids benefit the heart by decreasing the LDL cholesterol (bad) and increasing HDL cholesterol (good). In turn, omega-9 aids in reducing plaque build-up in your arteries, which is a common cause of strokes and heart attacks (38).
Omega-9 Can Increase Energy And Enhance Your Mood
Oleic acid present in omega-9 can help increase energy and enhance your overall mood. A clinical trial determined if a lower saturated fatty acid to monounsaturated fatty acid ratio will affect physical activity and performance and the amount of energy burnt (35). The study concluded that using oleic acid is associated with increased physical activity, access to more energy, and decreased anger (35).
Omega-9 Can Benefit Individuals With Alzheimer's
Studies show that erucic acid may normalize the accumulation of exceptionally long-chain fatty acids in the brain of those suffering from X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy. This severe genetic disorder affects the adrenal glands, spinal cord, and nervous system. In addition, erucic acid can enhance cognitive function and memory impairment (39).
In addition, a study performed on mice showed that erucic acid can be a therapeutic agent for diseases associated with cognitive deficits like Alzheimer's disease (40).
Food High In Omega-9s
The very best source of omega-9 is present in various plant oils, nuts, or seeds.
Oils High In Omega-9
• Olive oil
• Avocado oil
• Almond oil
• Mustard oil
• Peanut oil
• Cashew nut oil
Other nuts and foods high in omega-9
• Grass-fed Beef
• Macadamia nuts
Should I Take Omega 3 6 9 or Omega 3 Supplementation?
Generally speaking, most people who follow a westernized diet consume copious amounts of omega-6 and not nearly enough omega-3. According to current estimations, the ratio between omega-6: omega-3 is approximately 15:1 instead of the 1:1 or 4:1 recommended ratio.
The rapid increase is primarily due to the rise in fast foods, consuming excessive vegetable oils, and a decrease in fish consumption (3).
Then, the body can self-produce omega-9, making it a vital fatty acid, but it isn't essential to consume in supplement form. In addition, according to current findings, increases in the omega-6: omega-3 ratio can potentiate inflammation and exacerbate inflammatory diseases (41).
So, in most cases, we conclude that supplementing with pure omega-3 oil is more effective than consuming an omega 3-6-9 supplement.
Are Omega 3 6 9 Supplements Suitable For Vegans and Vegetarians?
A strict plant-based diet is typically high in omega-6 and-9. In comparison, seeds, nuts, and oils are full of ALA fatty acids. However, these foods contain minimal EPA fatty acids or DHA fatty acids - where most benefits lie.
While your body can convert ALA fatty acids into EPA and DHA fatty acids, research shows this only occurs in limited amounts. So, vegans and vegetarians generally have a lower level of EPA fatty acids and DHA fatty acids than those following a diet containing much oily fish.
Then, in most omega-3 or omega-3-6-9 supplements, the omega-3 is primarily sourced from fish oil. Although fortunately, several plant-based omega-3 supplements use seaweed and algae (one of few plant groups that contain EPA fatty acids and DHA fatty acids). In turn, providing a vegan and vegetarian-friendly option (42).
To wrap it up, omega-3-6 and -9 all play an essential role in our bodily functions, reducing inflammation and improving heart health, skin, and mental health.
Note that combined omega-3-6-9 supplements may be popular, but they provide little to no additional benefits to consuming omega-3 alone; this is because the body can self-produce omega-9, and we tend to consume excess amounts of omega-6s through our diet. So, taking omega-3s alone will most likely offer the most health benefits.
24. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids 0.