Omega is a word we easily throw around mid-conversation, outside the gym or when asked how often our kids eat fish… but what do they really do? And where do they come from? Let’s break it down into palatable portions!
Omegas are essentialfatty acids (EFAs), meaning our bodies do not make these dynamo fatty acids so we must obtain them through the food that we eat. Omegas are polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Omega-3 is the main structural element of our brains, the retina, our skin and even of the cerebral cortex (outside layer of the cerebrum of the brain).
These polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, heart disease and stroke by decreasing the synthesis of triglycerides. Research shows that omega-3 is anti-inflammatory and has all sorts of health benefits.
The most important types of omega-3 fatty acids are:
ALA– Alpha-linolenic acid: the body uses for energy
EPA– Eicosapentaenoic acid: reduces cellular inflammation and can reduce symptoms of depression
DHA– Docosahexaenoic acid: plays a vital role in brain function and development
- Decreases blood pressure
- Decreased risk of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- Reduces the levels of LDL cholesterol in the arteries (unhealthy cholesterol)
- Improves mental health
- Can lower the amount of fat in the liver
- Reduces inflammation and pain
- Improves bone mineral density
- Relieves symptoms of asthma
- Prevention of dementia
- Supports the brain development of babies (breastmilk is rich in DHA)
As for children, studies show that the health benefits of DHA are miraculous – better short- and long-term memory, improved reading skills, decreased anxiety and fewer behavioural issues. Children aged between 2 and 4 require 150 mg per day, aged 6 to 10 require 250 mg per day and those 10 to 19 years old need a 1000 mg per day.
DHA and EPA are found in cold water fish and oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, cod, fresh or light canned tuna, herring and even marine algae.
It is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to consume a minimum of two portions of oily fish per week.
ALA sources are plant based, mainly from seeds and some nuts. Walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans, chia seeds and kidney beans are packed with ALAs.
People with artery diseases may need alternative supplementation, as it can be difficult to get enough omega-3 through diet alone. Not having enough omega-3 in our diet can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart diseases.
Daily fish oil dosage: 2000 – 3000mg combination of DHA and EPA. This should be taken consistently, with meals. As DHA and EPA are believed to be more beneficial to one’s health compared to ALA, supplementation using fish oils is better compared to taking flaxseed oil.
Omega-6 is also a polyunsaturated fatty acid as stated above but the biggest difference is that omega-6 is more pro-inflammatory. This does play an important role in our immune systems, but too much of a good thing can be bad as it can lead to increased inflammation and inflammatory diseases.
Omega-6 is mainly used for energy purposes. It is believed that our modern Western diet contains excessive amounts on pro-inflammatory omega-6. According to Healthline it could be a ratio of 10:1 and even as high as 50:1 compared to omega-3 intake. This intake can be lowered by using less vegetable oils and limiting food that has been fried in refined vegetable oils.
The two main types of omega-6 fatty acids:
LA– Linoleic acid
GLA– Gamma-linolenic acid: can improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Some research has shown that GLA supplementation can be beneficial while treating breast cancer. CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid) which is also a form of omega-6 is more popular amongst the body conscious as it is linked to a lower body fat mass.
Borage oil, primrose oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine states that 17 grams for men and 12 grams for women of omega-6 is an adequate intake per day for those between the ages of 19 and 50 years of age.
It can be produced by the body (non-essential fats) and is monounsaturated. Omega-9 fats are the most abundant fats in the cells found in our bodies, but it still has beneficial health properties when consumed compared to other sources of fats. Olive oil and cashew nut oil are good sources of Omega-9.
So, taking all the omegas into consideration it seems that a combination of the different omegas is not necessary. As our diets already contain plenty of omega-6 and omega-9, it is safe to say the only omega we need to supplement is omega-3.