Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Omega-3 & Omega-6

You probably don't need telling that the human body is very efficient at making and storing fat. However, there two types of fat that it cannot produce naturally, and which it needs to function efficiently. They are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) called Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Excessive inflammation is associated with many chronic degenerative conditions including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, arthritis and dementia.

Tests have indicated that Omega-3 fatty acids offer protection against depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with lower cancer risk in population studies.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in plant and animal products. The highest levels are found in flaxseed oil and cold water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and trout. However, flaxseed oil's Omega-3 content is less easily accessible to the body than fish oil (if you want to know more, type 'flaxseed oil vs fish oil' into Google).

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids at lower levels include walnuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, soybeans and blackcurrant seeds.

The three most important omega-3 fatty acids are Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosa Pentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosa Hexaenoisc Acid (DHA). ALA is an essential fatty acid that must be consumed in the diet, it is converted in the body to EPA and DHA (which turn into series 3 prostaglandins). The prostaglandins then direct signals to dilate blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and prevent platelets from crowding together.

By contrast, Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Inflammation helps the body repair itself (such as in the case of a muscle sprain). Omega-6 fatty acids are incorporated into the cell membrane, and when the cell is under stress, it places prostaglandins around it signaling to the body the need for repair.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in red meat, dairy products and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) such as soybean and corn oil.

The most important omega-6 fatty acid is Arachidonic Acid (AA), which can be found in egg yolks, meats (organs in particular), and other animal-based food items. Linoleic Acid (LA) is converted to Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) in the body and then further broken down into AA.

Most westerners consume a surplus of Omega-6, and a deficit of Omega-3. If, like me, you don't like fish much, 1,000 milligrams of a good quality fish oil supplement a day should counteract the deficiency.