Vol. 1, #14
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:

  • you have more energy so you feel inclined to exercise more, with all the benefits that exercise brings;
  • cravings for sugar and carbohydrates are less. If not used by the cells as fuel, these carbohydrates are converted by the body to saturated fat and stored. Here is a reason why eating the right fats helps you lose weight;
  • the brain is made mostly from fat. Eating omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in proper balance leads to better brain development, higher IQ, greater alertness and calmness of mind. It is very important that pregnant mothers consume these essential fats for proper development of the fetus. These essential fats are of great help for children with learning problems, hyperactivity and other behavioral problems;
  • skin becomes softer, tans better, and problem areas (dry, flaky, oily) tend to clear up. Hair and nails improve. The EFAs are sometimes considered to be "edible cosmetics";
  • the EFA's come out as part of sweat, and carry with them fat soluble pesticides and other harmful chemicals that they encounter in the body. This makes the essential fats a useful aid to hyperthermia;
  • the EFA's help prevent "leaky gut", food allergies, and reduce inflammation;
  • all the organs and glands require the essential fats in order to function properly;
  • the EFA's are required for sperm formation;
  • women need more EFA's than men because EFA's are taken up by the fetus during pregnancy. Not knowing this, many women experience extreme deficiency in EFA's, with all the problems this involves. This is a reason why women experience more of certain diseases than men, including depression (including post-partum depression), fibromyalgia, lupus, thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's, and other degenerative conditions. The health of the fetus is also at risk as the mother's EFA's become depleted;
  • blood platelets are less "sticky" leading to improved circulation, lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, the kidneys function better resulting in removal of excess water from the body (a partial cause of overweight), mineral metabolism is better resulting in stronger bones, the immune system functions better.

Conversion of Oils by the Human Body

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids
ALA alpha-linolenic acid, the basic omega-3 fatty acid found in flax oil and green leafy vegetables LA linoleic acid, the basic omega-6 fatty acid found in olive oil
EPA eicosapentaenoic acid found in fish oils GLA gamma-linolenic acid found in evening primrose oil
DHA docosahexaenoic acid found in fish oils AA Arachidonic acid, the major n-6 in the brain, found in meat, eggs and dairy products
DPA docosapentaenoic acid found in liver lipids of cattle; herring oil DGLA dihomogamma-linolenic acid is used by the body to make hormones.
SDA stearidonic acid found in hemp seed, black current seed.  

Ratio of Omega-3 EFA's / Omega-6 EFA's in Edible Oils

  Omega-3 EFA's Omega-6 EFA's
Pumpkin 0 - 15% 42 - 57%
Walnut 5% 51%
Soya Bean 7% 50%
Hemp 20% 20%
Chia 30% 40%
Flax 58% 14%
Olive none 10%
Sesame none 45%
Corn none 59%
Grape none 59%
Sunflower none 65%
Safflower none 75%

Omega-6 Fatty Acid: Omega-3 Fatty Acid:
Linoleic Acid Alpha-Linolenic Acid
Gamma-Linolenic Acid Eicosapentaenoic Acid
Dihomogamma Linolenic Acid Docosahexaenoic Acid
Docosahexaenoic Acid  

October 23, 2004 Newsletter

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.

© 2002 Nature's Corner