Omega 3 Vs Omega 6

omega 3 thrive magazine

So you’ve probably heard of omega 3 right? Over the last few years the benefits of this healthy compound has been plastered over media headlines, printed on relevant food packages and been promoted through fish oil supplements. But what actually is omega 3 and why is it so good for us?

Omega 3
Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated ‘fatty acid’ with its name coming from the double bond in the chemical structure, which is three carbon atoms from the ‘omega’ or tail end of the molecular chain.

The two forms of omega 3 fatty acids that are particularly known for their health benefits are referred to as ‘EPA’ and ‘DHA’ (I’ll save you the hardship of reading their full names!). These fatty acids are termed as ‘essential’ which means that we need to get them into our bodies through our diet.

Omega 6 is also ‘essential’, we need to get it from our diets through food sources like seeds, nuts and the oils extracted from them.

Dietary sources of omega 3 include oily fish (like mackerel, salmon and sardines) and although conversion isn’t quite as efficient (due to another stage in conversion), walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and even supplements like algae are good vegetarian sources.
The fatty acids EPA and DHA are now known to be beneficial because not only are they known to have ‘anti-inflammatory’ effects, other benefits include supporting heart health (1), mental health (2) and even the immune system (to name just a few)! (3).

Omega 6 The new (less glorified) kid on the block who is now getting a little more attention is omega 6. As omega 6 is also ‘essential’, we need to get it from our diets through food sources like seeds, nuts and the oils extracted from them. Although these food sources are classed as ‘healthy’, the reason why omega 6 is often viewed in a negative light is that processed foods are also often high in omega 6 due to the refined vegetable oils used within them.

Although beneficial in small amounts, when we consume larger amounts of omega 6 (and not enough omega 3) it can increase inflammation in our body as the ‘anti- inflammatory’ effects of omega 3 are overridden (4).

The battle of the omegas
As inflammation is often the root cause of a variety of diseases, the potentially inflammatory effect of omega 6 means that making sure you try and create a healthy balance between omega 3’s and omega 6’s is essential. The issue in recent years is that the ‘Western’ way of eating dramatically leans towards omega 6 dominance with a ratio of around 16:1. This unbalanced ratio is almost unrecognisable from our ancestors more balanced 1:1 (omega 6: omega 3) dietary intake (5).

One of the issues of having unbalanced ratios of omega 6:3 is that both fatty acids compete for the same conversion enzyme which means if there are too many omega 6 fatty acids in the diet, the beneficial effects of omega 3 might not get a look in. Alternatively, the higher the omega 3 intake in your diet, the lower the opportunity for omega 6 to be available to increase inflammation.

The issue in recent years is that the ‘Western’ way of eating dramatically leans towards omega 6 dominance.

Getting your balance right
Some simple steps you can make to get your balance of omega 3 and omega 6 in order are:
Reducing the amount of processed foods you eat as this will likely reduce your omega 6 intake from vegetable oils

Switch from using vegetable oils in cooking to more omega 3 rich oils like olive oil or rapeseed oilAim to include at least 1 portion of oily fish a week (ideally two if you can!)

Look to include plant based sources of omega 3 like chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds.
In some cases supplementing with a good quality fish oil could be beneficial however remember to check with your GP or a health professional before starting supplements as fish oil can interact with some medication including blood clotting medication (like warfarin).

So now you know a little more about the benefits of omega 3, hopefully you feel empowered to trial some new fish recipes, sprinkle chia seeds into your smoothies or even just politely wave goodbye to the added vegetable oils that might have out welcomed their stay.

Thanks to Thrive Expert  Laura Bryan for this article.
Laura Bryan is a BANT registered Msc Nutritional TherapistFor full references see the Winter issue of Thrive magazine.