October 30, 2004
Q: What are the omega oils and what are they good for? - Layperson
A: There are three types of omega oils-omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9, of which only omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) are classified as essential fatty acids (the body can not manufacture them, but must get them from the diet)-omega-9 can be manufactured by the body from other oils and is, therefore, classified as a nonessential fatty acid. The essential fatty acids are also known as "Vitamin F" and are polyunsaturated fatty acids.Of the listed fatty acids in the chart below, only omega-6 and omega-3 are categorized as "essential" because they cannot be synthesized in the body and therefore must be derived from the diet. Under optimal conditions, the remaining omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can be synthesized from linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid and may informally be referred to as "conditionally essential". The other essential fatty acids come from linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Linoleic acid is found in sunflower, and safflower oils, while GLA is found in evening primrose and borage oils. The GLA oils are especially useful with arthritis, diabetes and skin disorders. Only the omega-6's can convert themselves into GLA. However don't go overboard on these fatty acids as they can give rise to an excess of certain inflammatory eicosanoids due to low or loss of delta-6-desaturase (D6D), an enzyme. Without this enzyme, omega-6 fatty acids won't transform themselves into GLA. The loss of this enzyme may also be caused by diabetes, hypothyroidism, viral infection or cancer. The enzyme is made with the help of vitamin C, vitamin B, zinc and magnesium; a low amount of these nutrients will decrease the amount of D6D made by the body.
Omega-3 is the name of a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids. In this family, the first double bond is between the third and fourth carbon atoms as counted from from the methyl end, hence the name Omega-3 or N-3. The word omega comes from "alpha and omega" with "alpha" representing the beginning and "omega" the end.
Omega-6 is also the name of a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids. All fatty acids in the omega-6 family contain their first double bond between the 6th and 7th carbon atoms as counted from the methyl end, hence the name Omega-6 or N-6.
The proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 should be 1:1 or 2: 1. The modern diet ranges all the way up to 1:45.
The EFA's are MAJOR nutrients needed in tablespoon amounts each day (adults need about one tablespoon for every 50 pounds of body weight). If you eat enough of the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in proper balance, then they are used by the body to produce energy (improving strength and endurance, plus faster recovery from fatigue), they improve the quality of your blood so that oxygen and nutrients are transported more efficiently, and the mind is more alert. Animals also benefit from eating a proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, though the quantity they need will vary according to body size and other factors.
Other benefits from consuming the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in proper balance include:
Conversion of Oils by the Human Body
Ratio of Omega-3 EFA's / Omega-6 EFA's in Edible Oils
DISCLAIMER: The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.