About Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Last edited, 13 April 2020.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are vital for supporting heart, brain and immune system health. 

What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids? 

Omega-3 fatty acids are fats that are important for good health. The three major types of omega-3 fatty acids are: 

1) ALA – Alpha-linolenic acid. (Found only in plants.) 
2) DHA – Docosahexaenoic acid (for building of brain cells) 
3) EPA – Eicosapentaenoic acid (for cardiovascular health) 

Our body cannot make ALA, DHA or EPA.  However by consuming plant foods that are rich in ALA, our body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA required by our body. 

Why are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Necessary? 

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of cell membranes.  They promote heart health by reducing triglycerides (fats in the blood), blood pressure and atherosclerosis.  They also help to regulate immunity by reducing inflammation and allergic reactions.  Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids significantly aid the brain in learning and cognition, and play an important role in babies’ growth.  

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Heart

  • reduce triglycerides 
  • reduce risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks 
  • protect against arrhythmias 
  • improve blood circulation, preventing formation of varicose veins, improve blood vessel function 
  • lower blood pressure in cases of hypertension 

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for our Joints and bones 

  • reduce inflammation in arthritic conditions 
  • support bone health 

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Mental and cognitive functions 

  • protect against Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease 
  • help central nervous system 

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Eyes 

  • protect against retinopathy 

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Liver 

  • protect liver from damage caused by obesity and insulin resistance due to obesity 

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for women 

  • reduce menstrual pain and help prevent breast cancer 

What can Omega-3 Fatty Acids do for my children? 

  • build brain cells 
  • improve learning ability 
  • make cell membranes 
  • help with immune function maturation 

What are the effects of Omega-3 deficiency? 

Omega-3 deficiency is the sixth biggest killer of Americans and causes 96,000 U.S. deaths per year, according to Harvard University researchers. 

Omega-3 deficiency can cause

  • inflammation 
  • hypertension 
  • depression 
  • male infertility 
  • crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease) 
  • hemorrhagic dermatitis, hemorrphagic folliculitis, skin atrophy and scaly dermatitis 

Which Plant Foods are high in Omega-3s? 

Chia seeds, kiwi fruit seeds, and green vegetables (Brussels sprouts, kale and spinach). 

Both Chia seed and Kiwi seed are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – oil in chia seeds contains about 66% ALA – kiwi fruit seed oil contains about 62% ALA.

What are Omega-6s? 

Types of omega-6s include: 

  • Linoleic acid 
  • Gamma-linolenic acid 
  • Arachidonic acid 
  • Eicosadienoic acid 
  • Docosadienoic acid 
  • Calendic acid 
  • Adrenic acid 
  • Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid 

What are some dietary sources of Omega-6s? 

  • Vegtable oils (safflower, corn, soy and cottonseed), which are widely used in processed and fast foods.
  • Corn-fed chickens, cows, sheep, pigs and fish. Corn is high in omega-6 fatty acids. 

 What can Omega-6 do for me? 

  • Stimulate skin and hair growth 
  • Regulate metabolism 
  • maintain bone health and the reproductive system 
  • Important for brain function 
  • Needed for normal growth and development 

What are the negative health effects of Omega-6s? 

  • Increased risk of heart attacks, stroke and arrhythmia, arthritis and osteoporosis, cancer 
  • Mood disorders and depression 
  • Inflammation 

With ALA, our body can calm down the side effects of excessive omega-6. 

The Right Source of Omega-3 fatty acid 

There are many sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but not all are good for you.  Water pollution has contaminated fish and other marine life, making it unsafe to obtain omega-3 from fish or seals.  Fish liver oil may contain more poisonous substances as the liver is a filtering and detoxifying organ.  What’s more, fishing to obtain fish oil has put animals such as whales and seals in danger of extinction, destroying the ecosystem’s balance. 

Do we need Omega-3 supplements? 

The typical modern diet has too much omega-6s and not enough omega-3s. 

For example, the typical American diet tends to contain 14-25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.  One contributing factor for the high levels of omega-6s in one’s diet is the vegetable oils (e.g. corn oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil) used in many processed and fried foods. 

Foods high in omega-6s: 

  • Processed foods e.g. pastries, cakes, cookies, chips, crackers, doughnuts 
  • Fried foods e.g. hot dogs due to the vegetable oils used Salad oils and mayonnaise 
  • Chicken, eggs, beef and animal fats 

What are the consequences of the omega-6:omega-3 ratio imbalance? 

  • Inflammation, which is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases 
  • Obesity 
  • Depression 
  • Dyslexia 
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Tendency towards violence 

What are some common animal-based sources of omega-3s? 

  • oily fish e.g. salmon is high in DHA and EPA 
  • whale and seal blubber 

What are the possible risks of omega-3 fish oil supplements? 

  • Toxic contaminants due to water polluction e.g. mercury, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), methylmercury. Especially in oil from fish liver as liver is a filtering and detoxifying organ. 
  • Excessive vitamin A and D content in cod liver oil 
  • Vitamin E depletion 
  • Interference with medications, such as blood thinners, aspirin and high blood pressure drugs Side effects including diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, abdominal bloating, nausea, loose stools, rash and nosebleeds
  • Fishy burps and aftertaste 
  • High calories. One tablespoon of cod liver oil contains 122 calories An overdose of fish oil can lead to increased risk of stroke and cancer 
  • Not eco-friendly.  Some species of whales and seals are endangered.  Dolphins, some endangered, may also ended up in fishermen’s nets with tuna. 
  • Expectant mothers who take fish oil do not lower their risk of postnatal depression or boost their babies’ mental development, according to a study published in the Journal of the Americal Medical Association in October 2010. 

Why should I choose plant-based omega-3s? 

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 essential fatty acid) is found only in plants. Our body needs ALA but cannot manufacture it 
  • Contain healthful phytochemicals, antioxidants and polysaccharides 
  • Do not increase cholestrol intake 
  • Do not deplete vitamin E 
  • No risk of overdose 
  • Eco-friendlier 
  • No fishy burps and aftertaste 

How do I choose good plant sources of omega-3s? 

Chia seeds and kiwi fruit seeds are good sources of omega-3.  Walnuts have higher levels of omega-6s than omega-3s.  Flax seed has a good omega-6:omega-3 ratio, but experimental studies have raised concerns that it may be unsafe for unborn children when taken by expectant mothers. Flax seed may also worsen hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast, uterine and ovarian cancers.