Omega-3 fats have been a shining celebrity over the past few years as it has been found that consuming more omega-3 fats seems to have numerous health benefits. Omega-3 and omega-6 are two types of polyunsaturated fats (aka PUFAs). Most of the PUFAs we eat are in the form of omega-6, which is one reason why omega-3 has started to receive so much attention. Back in the paleolithic days, humans consumed an omega-3:omega-6 ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Today, various studies have shown our intake is 1:10 to 1:20 or more! This out-of-wack ratio seems to be associated with numerous health complications, many of which are heart-related.
Types of Omega-3 Fats
There are three main types of omega-3 fats and supplement manufacturers can be tricky, so it is important you know the difference. The most common type is called alpha-linoleic acid and is found in flax seed and walnuts. This type of fat is a healthy fat source, but it is not associated with many of the health benefits you hear about when people talk about omega-3 fats. It can help get your ratio back into check, which can help your overall health, but the heart-health benefits are usually seen with longer-chain omega-3s, which we will talk about next.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a longer-chain fatty acid found only in fatty-fish and breast milk. It is also can be used to derive docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid that is slightly longer than EPA. These two fats are associated with numerous health benefits related to the heart and brain function. Mayo clinic has a great list of potential health benefits that you can check out here.
Setting the record straight
An important note I would like to make is about Omega 3-6-9 supplements. These are the biggest scam I have ever seen. First, let’s talk about what each of the omega fats are.
- Omega-3 is what we just discussed above and is found to have numerous health benefits. Our goal with omega-3 supplementation is to get the ratio of omega-3 intake closer to that of omega-6 intake.
- Omega-6 is a fat we eat far too much of already. It is found is most all processed foods, foods are fried in it, and many people use it for cooking (corn oil and vegetable oil are a few sources). Again, our goal is to decrease how much omega-6 we are consuming and increase the omega-3 we are consuming. This supplement basically cancels the two out and helps you gain no ground at all.
- Omega-9 is actually monounsaturated fat, which is the fat that has helped olive oil, nuts, and canola oil receive their fame. While this is a very healthy fat, it is easy to get adequate omega-9 from your diet.
The Bottom Line: If you are going to take a supplement, find one that is only omega-3 fats DHA and EPA.
Want to learn more? Check out NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements fact sheet on omega-3 fats here.