As more people are taking a more proactive approach toward their health, the number of consumers taking different kinds of supplements is also increasing. There are different kinds of supplements available in the market, each one promising numerous health benefits. Among the most widely available supplements are omega 3 and omega 6, two kinds of essential fatty acids that are needed by the body but are not endogenously produced. Omega 3 and omega 6 can be obtained from the food we eat as well as from supplements.
Differentiating Between Omega 3 and 6
Omega 3 and 6 are both polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) that are needed by the body for normal growth and function. Since the body cannot make these two types of PUFA’s, one must provide the body with an exogenous source of these essential fatty acids through food or supplements.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for brain development and function especially during the early stages of life. There are different types of omega 3 fatty acids but alpha linoleic acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are considered to be the most important nutritionally. Omega 3 may also have benefits in preventing heart disease and the American Heart Association advocates consumption of fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel at least twice a week to provide the body with the omega 3 it needs for better heart health. Omega 3 has also been associated with decreased inflammation in the body and has several touted health benefits for conditions such as diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Omega 6 is also an essential fatty acid needed for normal growth and development. Like omega 3, omega 6 is also needed for brain function and development. Both types of polyunsaturated fatty acids play a role in hair and skin growth, metabolism, bone growth, and reproductive health. While omega 3 has been associated with decreased inflammation in the body, omega 6 fatty acids are linked with increased inflammation especially in excessive amounts in relation to omega 3.
Obtaining Omega 3 and 6 Through Diet
The body can obtain the omega 3 and 6 it needs through one’s diet. It is important to eat a healthy diet that is balanced in terms of omega 3 and omega 6 content. In the United States, the typical American diet usually contains more omega 6 than omega 3 fatty acids which is considered to be a risk factor for developing heart disease. Individuals who follow a Mediterranean diet are more likely to be protected against heart problems since it has a healthier omega 3 and omega 6 balance due to less consumption of meat products that are high in omega 6 and more emphasis on omega 3 rich foods such as fish and whole grains.
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA. Flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and tofu are also good sources of this essential fatty acid. Omega 6, on the other hand, is found in foods such as palm oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, beef, chicken, and eggs.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 Supplements
Another way to obtain omega 3 and 6 is through supplements. Fish oil and cod liver oil are two of the most popular supplements that contain omega 3 fatty acids. Cod liver oil, aside from containing DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids, also contains vitamins A and D. Flaxseed oil is also a popular supplement used by vegetarians who wish to obtain omega 3 in the form of alpha linoleic acid. Omega 6 supplements usually contain gamma linoleic acid which is naturally present in some plant oils like primrose oil and blackcurrant seed oil but there are also some supplements that contain linoleic acid.
Supplements and Heart Health
In most cases, omega 6 supplementation is not necessary since the average diet usually provides the body with enough omega 6. Omega 6 supplements are usually given to individuals with conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, diabetes, and arthritis. Omega 3 supplementation, however, may be necessary if one’s diet doesn’t meet the body’s requirement for omega 3 fatty acids and there is a high risk for heart disease such as in the case of high triglyceride levels.
The American Heart Association advocates increasing omega 3 fatty acids through foods but high risk individuals and those with diagnosed heart conditions such as coronary artery disease may get inadequate amounts of omega 3 from foods alone and may require supplementation. Getting the right balance between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids when it comes to diet is important not only for better heart health but for general health as well.