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Published on April 29, 2021

Omega 3-6-9: What You Need to Know About These Supplements

Omega 3-6-9: What You Need to Know About These Supplements
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Everyone wants to eat healthily. But modern life is busy, and we may not always have the time to cook healthy meals (or we may not even know how to). When food doesn’t cut it, another way to ensure we get all the nutrients we need is by taking supplements. In this article, I’ll take a closer look at combined omega 3-6-9 supplements.

I will start by covering what omega fatty acids are, how they affect our overall health, and why our bodies need them. Then, we’ll take a look at omega supplements specifically and how to choose a good one.

So, are you striving to optimize your overall health and lead a healthier lifestyle? Here’s what you need to know about omega 3, 6, and 9 acids to achieve your goal.

What Are Omega Fatty Acids?

Omega fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are also known as “essential fats.” In other words, these are fats that our body cannot produce, and we need to take them through our food or as supplements.

The name “polyunsaturated” is derived from their chemical composition where “poly” stands for “many,” and “unsaturated” explains the double bonds they contain. This means that omega fatty acids have many of these bonds. There are also “monounsaturated” fats that contain only one double bond.

The position of the first double unsaturated bond from the end of the molecular chain (the omega) is what determines whether that’s an omega-3, omega-6, or omega-9 fatty acid.

For example, in omega-3, the first double bond is found on the third carbon atom, counting back from the molecular tail, and in omega-6 and -9 on the sixth and ninth carbon atom, respectively.[1]

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A Quick Guide to Omega 3-6-9

Omega-3 acids have been a well-known dietary supplement, especially among the healthy lifestyle community.

However, very few consumers know about the benefits of other fatty acids—such as omega-6 and -9—and how to balance their intake to optimize their health. So, let’s have a better look at these healthy fats.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 is the most popular among unsaturated fats. They are also known as essential fats because they are necessary for human growth and development. However, the human body cannot produce them, so the only way to enjoy their benefits is to take them through the food we consume or in the form of a supplement.

The omega-3 group is made of different types of unsaturated fatty acids whose molecular chains vary in shape and size.

These are the most popular:

  • ALA (Alpha-linoleic acid) – ALA is an 18-carbon chain fatty acid that our body uses for regulating, preventing, and treating cardiovascular diseases, such as arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, and other heart-related diseases.
  • The EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) – EPA is a 20-carbon chain fatty acid usually prescribed to patients who have experienced a heart attack, surgery, and chemo treatments. It’s also believed to alleviate depression symptoms and manage inflammation caused by chronic diseases.[2] However, there is still plenty of research to be done to support many of these claims.
  • DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) – DHA is a 22-carbon chain fatty acid commonly used for cholesterol control and plays an important role in infant development, especially with eye and nerve tissues.

As I have already mentioned, the human body is not able to synthesize these essential fats. Luckily, there are plenty of natural sources that we can and should use in the everyday diet to achieve optimal health.

Here are the most important sources of omega-3 acids:

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  • Animal sources: salmon, herring, mackerel, oysters, cod liver oil, sardines, anchovies, caviar, omega-3-enriched eggs, meats, and dairy from grass-fed animals, etc.
  • Plant sources: walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soybeans, spinach, Brussels sprouts, etc.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Another healthy type of unsaturated fats is omega-6. Although not as popular as the omega-3, these fats play an important role in keeping our health in check. They are also considered “essential” and need to be consumed through the food in our diet.

These are the four types of omega-6 fatty acids:

  • LA (Linoleic acid) – LA is the main polyunsaturated fatty acid found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, mostly used to prevent and fight coronary heart disease. It is also a popular compound in many cosmetic products used to fight acne and other skin conditions.
  • ARA (Arachidonic Acid) – ARA is a 20-carbon chain fatty acid that helps regulate the immune system. The body relies on ARA to create inflammation, a normal physical function much needed to fight bacteria and viruses and repair damaged tissues.
  • GLA (Gamma-linoleic) – GLA is mostly used to treat arthritis, nerve damage caused by diabetes, reduce inflammation, and prevent heart diseases.[3]
  • CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid) – CLA is a natural type of trans fat and a popular weight loss supplement.

Good sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Animal sources: dairy, meats, fish oil, eggs, etc.
  • Plant sources: soybeans, corn, safflower seeds and sunflower oils, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tofu, avocado oil, peanut butter, etc.

Omega-9 Fatty Acids

Unlike the omega-3 and -6 polyunsaturated fats, omega-9 is a group of monounsaturated fats. They are also nonessential because the human body has the ability to produce them, and you don’t have to take supplements to regulate their intake.

The most common one among the omega-9 fatty acids is oleic acid. Several studies suggest that including oleic acid in your diet reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and reduces inflammation.[4]

Good sources of omega-9 are olive oil, cashew nut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, almond, cashews, etc.

Omega 3, 6, and 9 Health Benefits

Essential and nonessential omega fatty acids are incredibly for human health and development. The benefits of healthy fatty acids are many. In fact, very few other nutrients have been studied and researched to the same extent as the omega fatty acids.

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Here are some of the most important health benefits of these fatty acids:

Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Helps with improving heart disease risk factors: reduces triglycerides, lowers blood pressure, prevents blood clots, promotes ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, prevents arteriosclerosis[5]
  • Alleviates depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Manages chronic inflammation that can lead to heart attacks, cancer, and many other diseases
  • Helps you keep autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis under control
  • Improves mental disorder symptoms: people with mental disorders prove to have low levels of blood omega-3[6]
  • Reduces liver fat in humans in cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Crucial for eye and nerve tissue development as it is a major structural component of the retina

Health Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids

  • Provides energy
  • Regulates pro-inflammatory processes in the body essential for fighting infections and injury[7]
  • May fight risk factors of cardiovascular diseases and stroke

Omega-3 Vs. Omega-6

While they are both polyunsaturated essential fatty acids that we need to consume through food and supplements, there are a few key differences between omega-3 vs. omega-6. For one, they have a different chemical structure.

Secondly, omega-3 regulates the anti-inflammatory processes, but omega-6 is responsible for pro-inflammatory processes. This means that they regulate different functions of the immune system, and an imbalance can result in various diseases.

Finally, omega-6 fatty acids are easy to come by as they are present in many foods the western society consumes regularly. Omega-3-rich-food consumption, on the other hand, is lower than ever.

To control the presence of omega-6 fatty acids in your body, lower the intake of processed seeds and seed oils.

Should You Take Omega 3-6-9 Supplements?

There is no doubt that omega fatty acids are essential for our mental and physical development. You will find lots and lots of combined supplements in the health stores. But the real question is: do you really need to take them?

We know that a disbalance in fatty acid ratios in the human body might cause inflammation and various other diseases. We also know that supplements are meant to help you balance the presence of fatty acids in the body and give you the right proportions, such as 2:1:1 for omegas 3, 6, and 9.

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The thing is, you probably already get enough of omega 6 through food, and your body can produce omega 9 by itself. Unless you eat a very unhealthy diet, you might be better off with a pure omega-3 supplement instead.

In short, the best way to balance your omega intake is to be mindful of the food you consume.

What Is the Best Omega 3-6-9 Supplement?

If you do decide to go for a combined supplement, make sure you choose oils that have been cold-pressed. This is a natural method that uses a limited amount of heat in the extraction process and doesn’t oxidize the fatty acids.

Omega 3-6-9 supplements that contain an antioxidant, such as vitamin E, and have omega-3 content higher than 0.3 grams per serving are the best. Moreover, fish oil and algal oil-based supplements are a better choice because of the higher EPA and DHA presence shown to have greater health benefits than the ALA found in flaxseed oils.

Conclusion

Omega 3-6-9 foods and supplements are growing in popularity by the day. You might be tempted to take a supplement, but try to eat a balanced diet instead. Nature has already provided us with all the necessary nutrients, and all we have to do is choose the right ones to achieve overall health. If you do decide to take a supplement, pick one that will help you prevent disease or fight any existing condition.

People practicing a typical Western diet take plenty of omega-6 through their food, and the body has a natural ability to produce omega-9 fatty acids.

So, if your diet is already healthy, consider taking only omega 3s. Chances are the benefits will be quite the same or even better than if you take combined omega supplements.

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More About Fish Oil Supplements

Featured photo credit: Yoav Hornung via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] HealthLine: Omega-3-6-9 Fatty Acids: A Complete Overview
[2] NCBI: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes
[3] NIH: Gamma-linolenic acid: an antiinflammatory omega-6 fatty acid
[4] NIH: Omega-9 Oleic Acid, the Main Compound of Olive Oil, Mitigates Inflammation during Experimental Sepsis
[5] The Healthy Cuisine: Are Oysters Good For You? 5 Surprising Health Benefits
[6] Harvard Health Publishing: Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders
[7] NCBI: Gamma-linolenic acid, Dihommo-gamma-linolenic, Eicosanoids, and Inflammatory Processes)
  • LA can improve blood lipids and fight bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol when consumed as a substitute for saturated fats
  • Lowers the risk factors of coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Health Benefits of Omega-9 Fatty Acids

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    Published on June 17, 2021

    Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Is Better?

    Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Is Better?
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    Both flaxseed oil and fish oil supplements are sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have so many known benefits, such as having a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, glaucoma, and stroke. This nutrient is essential for the body’s function, but our bodies are unable to produce them on their own. That’s why you should get enough Omega-3 fatty acids from outside sources as well.

    In this article, I’ll discuss flaxseed oil vs fish oil and their various benefits and drawbacks to help you quickly make a more informed decision about which one of these is right for you.

    Are These Supplements Safe?

    According to the National Institutes of Health, side effects experienced by users of fish oil supplements, if any, are usually mild. These side effects may include unpleasant taste, bad breath, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms. This could include symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, or heartburn.[1]

    In terms of possible medication interactions, it’s noted that fish oil supplements may interfere with medicines that many Americans take to prevent blood clotting. If you’re on one of these medications or if you have a seafood allergy, it’s important to speak with your doctor before deciding to start taking Omega-3 supplements.

    Regarding the safety of flaxseed oil supplements, according to Mayo Clinic, these supplements are also generally considered to be safe. However, they report that if taken in excess and without sufficient intakes of water, users may experience various gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms include bloating, gas, and diarrhea.[2]

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    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also advise that these supplements should not be taken during pregnancy. This is because some studies suggest that taking flaxseed oil later in pregnancy may increase the risk of premature birth.[3]

    Mayo Clinic notes that, like fish oil supplements, flaxseed oil may also have negative interactions with some medications. Specifically, it’s important to consult your doctor before starting these medications if you’re on medications to reduce blood clotting, lower blood pressure, or manage your diabetes as these may interact negatively with a flaxseed oil supplement.[4]

    How Much Should You Take?

    The tricky thing about these supplements is that there is no standard recommended dosage for any of them. To be safe, it is recommended that you read the label on the supplement you choose to buy and make sure to only take the recommended dosage.

    Regardless of whether you’re taking a fish oil or flaxseed oil supplement, you may benefit from speaking with your primary care doctor to determine what dosage is right for you. They may be able to work with you to come up with an appropriate dosage, which may help prevent unwanted side effects.

    If you are interested in researching a particular brand of Omega-3 supplement, you can use the Dietary Supplement Label Database from the National Institutes of Health.[5]

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    Flaxseed Oil vs. Fish Oil

    Before we get into the various benefits of Fish Oil and Flaxseed Oil supplements, it’s important to have some basic knowledge about Omega-3 fatty acids.

    There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA come mainly from fish while ALA comes mainly from plant sources such as flaxseed and walnuts.[6] This means that if you choose to take a fish oil supplement, you’ll be getting DHA and EPA, and if you choose a flaxseed oil supplement, you’ll be taking ALA.

    Fish Oil Benefits

    Fish Oil supplements typically contain oil that has been extracted from fatty fish, such as herring, tuna, or anchovies.[7] The Omega-3 found in fish oil is very important for our heart health. It can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and blood clots.[8] It can also help to reduce high blood pressure, which is common among adults in the United States.[9]

    They can also help to reduce high cholesterol and plaque formation in your arteries.[10][11] They can also help reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death, which occurs when the heart is either pumping irregularly or ineffectively, making it unable to pump blood as intended to the rest of your vital organs.[12]

    These supplements may have non-cardiac benefits as well. Studies show that they can reduce your risk of glaucoma, certain cancers, and certain mental health disorders.[13][14][15]

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    Some studies have also shown that including Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil in your lifestyle may lead to improved weight loss when combined with a healthful diet.[16]

    Flaxseed Oil Benefits

    As we’ve noted, flaxseed oil contains the third type of Omega-3 fatty acid, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). What the body does with ALA is incredibly interesting. It actually converts it into DHA and EPA, which are the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

    Something important to note, however, is that the body is not all that efficient at converting ALA to DHA and EPA. This means that the benefits of ALA may not necessarily be the same as those that you would get from just taking DHA and EPA. Studies seem to be overall mixed on whether taking flaxseed oil provides the same cardiac benefits as fish oil does. Specifically, it’s unclear whether or not flaxseed oil supplementation can lower cholesterol or reduce your risk of heart disease.[17]

    According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have shown that taking flaxseed may help individuals with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels. However, it’s important to note that these findings are for flaxseed, no flaxseed oil. NIH does note that it is unclear whether flaxseed oil would provide such a benefit.[18]

    One big health benefit of flaxseed oil is its possible cancer-fighting ability. Studies have shown that taking flaxseed oil can stop the growth of cancer cells as well as cause apoptosis or death of cancer cells in certain types of cancer. One study found that the types of cancer which saw benefits from flaxseed oil intakes included breast cancer, cervical cancer, leukemia, and melanoma.[19]

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    Flaxseed Oil Vs Fish Oil: Which Should You Take?

    When deciding whether to take flaxseed oil vs fish oil supplements, there are some important things to consider. As I’ve discussed, fish oil supplements are a great source of DHA and EPA. In contrast, flaxseed oil supplements provide ALA, which the body ends up converting back to DHA and EPA, although inefficiently.

    Additionally, the benefits of fish oil seem to be more deeply studied and more overall conclusive than the benefits of flaxseed oil. Fish oil supplements have been shown to provide so many benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, certain cancers, and various mental health disorders.

    In contrast, the research regarding the benefits of flaxseed oil supplementation is lacking. While these supplements may have anti-cancer properties, the findings on further benefits are overall mixed.

    In terms of safety, these two supplements come out relatively even. They’re both regarded as generally safe. However, both have interactions with various medications that need to be taken into consideration before starting supplementation.

    If you’re trying to settle on an Omega-3 supplement, I recommend trying a fish oil supplement over a flaxseed oil supplement. Fish oil has so many proven benefits while the research on flaxseed oil is significantly less convincing. Fish oil also has the benefit of providing EPA and DHA directly, so your body does not need to do any extra work to convert it.

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    If you choose to take a fish oil supplement, know that you’ll be quickly reducing your risk of various chronic diseases with overall very minimal effort on your part. As always, make sure to check with your doctor before starting any supplementation to prevent negative side effects or drug interactions.

    Featured photo credit: New Food Magazine via newfoodmagazine.com

    Reference

    [1] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Omega-3 Supplements: In-Depth
    [2] Mayo Clinic: Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
    [3] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil
    [4] Mayo Clinic: Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
    [5] National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD)
    [6] Harvard School of Public Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
    [7] Healthline: What’s the Difference Between Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil?
    [8] Cleveland Clinic: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
    [9] PubMed.gov: Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction
    [10] ResearchGate: Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and growth and development
    [11] PubMed.gov: Effect of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on endothelial function: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    [12] Mayo Clinic: Ventricular fibrillation
    [13] TVST: Oral Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Intraocular Pressure in Normotensive Adults
    [14] PubMed.gov: Dietary fatty acids and colorectal cancer: a case-control study
    [15] PubMed.gov: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for indicated prevention of psychotic disorders: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial
    [16] PubMed.gov: Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content
    [17] Mount Sinai: Flaxseed oil
    [18] NIH: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil
    [19] NCBI: Treatment with flaxseed oil induces apoptosis in cultured malignant cells

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