You have probably heard of or been told about eating foods rich in omega-3, 6, and 9 to keep you healthy. You’ve been told they’ll keep your heart and your brain healthy, to eat oily fish for your joints, and to reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Omega-3, 6, and 9 are vital to your health but what exactly are they, and what do they do? Do you really need them and how much? This article will cover what they are, how they will benefit your health, how you get them, and how much you need each.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- Omega-9 Fatty Acids
- The Optimal Balance Between Omega-3, 6, and 9
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, fatty acids, or PUFAs, and are a group of fats that are vital for your health. They play important roles within the body from heart health, to the production of hormones in your body. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
ALA is an essential dietary fat which means you need to consume it in within your diet as your body cannot make it. It is also needed to make the other omega-3 fats, DHA, and EPA, which are long-chain fatty acids. Although ALA can be used to make DHA and EPA, it is recommended to still eat foods rich in these fatty acids due to a low conversion rate (1).
As mentioned, omega-3 is a vital part of our diet. It plays a role in heart health, maintaining healthy blood vessels, helping your immune system, the development of infant’s brains, and the creation of hormones.
Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
The consumption of foods rich in omega-3 has been found to possibly reduce your risk of cardiovascular/heart disease. This happens due to the triglyceride-lowering effects of omega-3 in the blood (2). Triglycerides are a type of fat that is present in the body and the biggest contributor to fat in the body.
It may also help reduce other factors leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels, and reducing plaque caused by cholesterol (3).
Improved Symptoms of Arthritis
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis have been found to have been improved through the consumption of omega-3, particularly fish oil supplements. The DHA and EPA in these supplements may help reduce joint pain and stiffness as well as boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory medications (4).
Reduce Asthma in Children and Young Adults
As previously mentioned with arthritis, omega-3 fatty acids play a part in reducing inflammation which is the main cause of asthma attacks, when the inflammation and swelling narrow the airways to the lungs (5). The consumption of omega-3 may help lower the risk of asthma in children and young children, according to some studies.
Reduce the Risk of Cancer
As one of the leading causes of death in the western world, reduced cancer risk has long been linked to omega-3. There is some evidence that those who consume omega-3 have up to a 55% lower risk of developing colon cancer (6), as well as a lowered risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women (7).
Improvement of Mental Health Conditions
Some studies have found improvement in the symptoms of some mental health conditions such as depression, mild Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and ADHD (8). Finding that omega-3 has a positive effect on the brain and mental skills, such as learning and remembering; however, more research in these areas is needed.
Natural Sources of Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found across multiple food groups; including both animal and plant-based options. It is important to ensure that we are getting enough of these fats in our diet, and the best way is to eat a varied and balanced diet. If you do not eat animal food sources, then it is especially important that you plan your diet carefully to ensure you include a variety of food sources.
Animal-Based Omega-3 Sources
- Grass-fed meat and dairy
- Free-range eggs