Omega 3 versus Omega 6 Fatty Acids

There are two types of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6. We cannot make them on our own and thus have to obtain them from our diet. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure.  There are two types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that the body needs. The omega-3 fatty acids foster mental acuity, a healthy nervous system, immunity, reduction in blood clots, reduction in triglycerides, reduction in LDL cholesterol, and a regular heart rhythm. There are several sources of these omega-3 fatty acids including cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts and flaxseeds contain a precursor to omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid called ALA) that the body then converts to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as components of cell membranes. Compared to omega-3 fatty acids, there are many more sources of omega-6 fatty acids in our diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in seeds and nuts, and the oils extracted from them. Vegetable oils are used in many of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in our diet as well as in fast food. Soybean oil alone is now so ubiquitous in fast foods and processed foods that an astounding 20 percent of the calories in the American diet are estimated to come from this single source. The body also constructs hormones from omega-6 fatty acids. Hormones derived from each of the two classes of essential fatty acids have opposite effects. Those from omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation, blood clotting, and cell proliferation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions. Both families of hormones must be in balance to maintain optimum health. We should be consuming omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in roughly equal amounts. But to our great detriment, we get far too much of the omega-6s and not enough of the omega-3s. This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body. Bringing the fats into proper proportion may improve these conditions. To get more omega-3 fatty acids, eat more oily fish (or take fish oil supplements), walnuts, and flax seeds. You can cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and fast foods and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed, for example). Use canola or extra virgin olive oil for cooking and in salad dressings. Remember though, all oils are 100% fat. They all contain approximately 120 calories per tablespoon. Always use oils sparingly!

Author: drjeffgreenberg

Dr Greenberg is a clinical cardiologist who specializes in preventive cardiology, nutrition, exercise, and longevity. He favors using natural methods to improving one's health.

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