Your Complete Guide to Omega-3-6-9 Fatty Acids
By Dr. Ruairi Robertson
Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids are all important dietary fats.
Interestingly, each one has a number of health benefits for your body.
However, it's important to get the right balance of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids in your diet. An imbalance may contribute to a number of chronic diseases.
Here is a guide to omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, including what they are, why you need them and where you can get them.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, a type of fat your body can't make.
Their name comes from their chemical structure, as "poly" means many and "unsaturated" refers to double bonds. Together they mean that omega-3 fatty acids have many double bonds.
"Omega-3" refers to the position of the final double bond in the chemical structure, which is three carbon atoms from the "omega" or tail end of the molecular chain.
Since the human body can't produce omega-3s, these fats are referred to as "essential fats," meaning that you have to get them from your diet.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least two portions of oily fish per week, which is rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA (1).
There are many types of omega-3 fats, which differ based on their chemical shape and size. Here are the three most common:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): This 20-carbon fatty acid's main function is to produce chemicals called eicosanoids, which help reduce inflammation. EPA also helps reduce symptoms of depression (2, 3).
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): A 22-carbon fatty acid, DHA makes up about 8 percent of brain weight and is extremely important for normal brain development and function (4).
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This 18-carbon fatty acid can be converted into EPA and DHA, although the process is not very efficient. ALA is mainly used by the body for energy (5).
Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of human cell membranes. They also have a number of other important functions, including:
- Improving heart health: Omega-3 fatty acids can increase "good" HDL cholesterol. They can also reduce triglycerides, blood pressure and the formation of arterial plaques (6, 7, 8, 9, 10).
- Supporting mental health: Taking omega-3s can reduce symptoms of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It can also reduce the risk of psychotic disorders for those who are at risk (11, 12, 13, 14, 15).
- Reducing weight and waist size: Omega-3 fats play an important role in weight management and can help reduce waist circumference (16, 17).
- Decreasing liver fat: Consuming omega-3s in your diet can help decrease the amount of fat in your liver (18, 19, 20).
- Supporting infant brain development: Omega-3s are extremely important for brain development in babies (4, 21).
- Fighting inflammation: Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory, meaning they can reduce the inflammation in your body that can contribute to a number of chronic diseases (22, 23, 24).
- Preventing dementia: People who eat more fish, which is high in omega-3 fats, tend to have a slower decline in brain function in old age. Omega-3s may also help improve memory in older people (25, 26).
- Promoting bone health: People with higher omega-3 intake and blood levels tend to have better bone mineral density (27, 28).
- Preventing asthma: Omega-3 intake can help reduce symptoms of asthma, especially in early life (29, 30, 31).
Unfortunately, the Western diet does not contain enough omega-3s. A deficiency may contribute to chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease (32).
Summary: Omega-3 fats are essential fats that you must get from your diet. They have important benefits for your heart, brain and metabolism.
What Are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The only difference is that the last double bond is six carbons from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule.
Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential, so you need to obtain them from your diet.
Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are important chemicals in the immune system. However, when too many of them are produced, they can increase inflammation and inflammatory disease (36).
Although omega-6 fats are essential, the modern Western diet contains far more omega-6 fatty acids than necessary (37).
The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4:1 or less. However, the Western diet has a ratio between 10:1 and 50:1.
Therefore, although omega-6 fats are essential in the right quantities, most people in the developed world should aim to reduce their omega-6 intake (37).
Nevertheless, some omega-6 fatty acids have shown benefits in treating symptoms of chronic disease.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid found in certain oils, such as evening primrose oil and borage oil. When consumed, much of it is converted to another fatty acid called dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA).
One study showed that taking a high dose of GLA supplements significantly reduced a number of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (38).
Another interesting study found that taking GLA supplements in addition to a breast cancer drug was more effective at treating breast cancer than the drug alone (39).
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another form of omega-6 fat that has some health benefits. For example, one large study found that taking 3.2 grams of CLA supplements per day effectively reduced body fat mass in humans (40).
Summary: Omega-6 fats are essential fats that are an important source of energy for the body. However, the Western diet contains too many.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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