Omega 3 and Omega 6 are famous in the nutrition world, but what are they really? What’s the big deal?? The omegas are essential fatty acids; if something is essential it means your body can’t make it on its own – you need to eat it. Both the omegas have really important roles but are totally different to each other.
Omega 3 causes an anti-inflammatory response and is linked to brain health, clear skin, heart disease and immunity. It is found in oily fish, algae, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds.
There are three main types of omega 3: DHA, EPA and ALA. The brain in full of DHA which acts as a type of fuel for the brain. Many studies have shown that DHA is vital for brain development. The retina in the eye is also very rich in DHA – vital to retain healthy eyesight. EPA along with DHA are needed to control the anti-inflammatory response. Finally ALA, ALA can be converted by the body into the more useful DHA and EPA but at a very low efficiency of around 1-5%.
Omega 6 causes an inflammatory response and helps stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system. It is found in vegetable oils and cereals – abundant in processed foods and the modern diet.
So lets talk about inflammation … our body is constantly trying to save us by battling bacteria, pathogens and other foreign things in the body. If we didn’t have enough of an inflammatory response cells that could have been saved would die – whoah, not good. However too much of an inflammatory response leads to many chronic conditions such as arthirits, heart disease, hayfever and maybe even cancer.
Imagine the inflammatory response as spiderman, spiderman is good and saves a whole lot of people BUT we have all seen in the movies a lot of blowing shit up and a lot of drama and mess. Imagine 10 spidermans (spidermen?) in one city and you have a problem. What I’m getting at is too much inflammation is a bad thing.
The inflammatory response functions perfectly with the right ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 which is debated as either 1:1 or 1:4. This is because we evolved on a diet with a similar ratio – high in fish and low in vegetable oils. However with agriculture and more vegetable oils in processed food the ratio is more like 1:20 for most western people. This is one theory of why we see so many inflammatory conditions in the world today.
So what can you do to help your body?
Try get your ratio back on track! The easiest way is to eat more fish and eat less foods high in vegetable oils. To avoid those vegetable oils eat less processed foods and choose grass fed meat over cereal fed. There are issues with fish oil – fishing is an unsustainable practice and there are traces of toxic substances such as mercury found in low quality fish oils.
What if you don’t want to eat fish?
So if you don’t eat fish I’ll tell you a secret … fish aren’t the omega 3 superstars, the algae they eat is. Simple solution – get your omega 3 directly from the source in algae supplements.
You may have heard about flaxseeds and chia seeds being super rich in omega 3 BUT there is a catch. ALA is found in chia seeds and flax seeds but it is not as useful to the body as EPA and DHA and the body converts is very inefficiently at about 1-5%.
I have only skimmed the surface here on the amazing benefits of Omega 3 but I hope you have learned something today.
All the best,