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The Omegas: which are essential?

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

There are three sources of omega fats in our diet:

Omega 6s are commonly found in plants, nuts, and eggs and are known as linolenic acid (LA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and arachidonic acid (AA).

These can be converted into other compounds that activate our immune system and cause an inflammatory response through blood clotting, white blood cell activity and dilating the blood vessels.

Omega 3s are commonly found in fish and oils and we know them to be alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Our bodies can convert ALA into the active forms of omega-3 which are DHA and EPA. Both of these are amazing at helping us reduce inflammation.

These two essential omega fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (poly = many double bonds in this chain) that are essential in our diet, meaning our body cannot make these on our own, so we must get them from our diet.

Omega-9s are monounsaturated (mono = one double bond) fatty acids which have been shown to reduce the risk of adverse cardiac events. These are not an essential fatty acid like the two above because the body can make these on it's own! But sources of 9s include: olive oil, various types of nut oils, walnuts, almonds and cashews.

FUN FACT: 30% of our total brain mass is made up of the omega 3 DHA!

We generally consume more 6s than 3s because it's found in the oils used to cook commercial and restaurant foods, so it's important to get a good mix of both because not only do we need them to support hair, nail and skin growth, but having the right balance of both is crucial for our immune system and keeping overall inflammation controlled. A review done in the Life Sciences Journal concluded that "a proportionally higher consumption of n−3 PUFAs [polyunsaturated fatty acids] can protect us against inflammatory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other chronic diseases." Here's some things you can do to increase your omega 3 consumption!

  • The Mediterranean diet is high in healthier fats which improves heart health. Those that consume this diet eat more omega 3s, fish, get more exposure to sunlight, have a less stressful life, more fruits and veggies, whole grains, physical activity, so it all counts!

  • Populations with high intakes of omega-3’s have low rates of heart disease. Sources include fatty fish, especially salmon, and plant sources such as flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soybean oil, nuts and seeds.

  • Most health benefits are seen from EPA and DHA consumption. So if you're looking for a supplement, my favorite is Equilife Omega-3 soft gels which provide the best ratio of fatty acids.

  • It is possible that fish oils will help decrease small LDL particles and triglycerides which means fish oil offers protection against cardiovascular related complications like hypertension.

  • Patients with known coronary heart disease or who are at high risk, may be counseled to consume at least 1-2 servings of oily fish per week but there is a concern for mercury levels in the fish or other elements so be mindful of high-mercury fish like king mackerel, shark, orange roughy, swordfish and tuna.

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