Omega-3, 6 and 9 Fatty Acids
We are used to thinking of fats as being bad things for us to eat but not all fats are bad. In fact, there are some that are good for us and others that are critical for good health and wellness.
Firstly, fatty acids are characterized as saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats, often found in meats and processed foods, are the bad guys in our diet. Unsaturated fats found in fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils are the healthier fats and are good for us.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids meaning that we must acquire them from our diet as we cannot make them. Omega-9 is another important fatty acid but we can make this from our diet and it also does not play as important a role in inflammation and disease as the other two types of fatty acids.
Omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation and their metabolic by-products participate in pain syndromes. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature and the two most important ones are EPA and DHA. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for brain and nerve cell development so these are particularly relevant for growing babies and children. We need a balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of about 4:1. The typical American diet contains about 15-30x more omega-6 compared to omega-3 fatty acids. This overabundance of omega-6 fats walks down pathways that lead to inflammation.
So, what is so important about the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids?
These enable our cells to communicate better. These fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease, strokes, treat attention deficit (ADD) disorder, depression and anxiety along with helping to control immune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and eczema.
Breastmilk contains primarily DHA to promote healthy brain and nerve development in babies. Formula is now fortified with DHA to mimic this effect.
What foods have omega-3 fatty acids?
Fish, eggs, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are the primary sources of omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. EPA and DHA are primarily found in fish. Alpha-linoleic acid is the prime vegetable omega-3 fatty acid and is converted in small amounts to the more functional EPA and DHA.
We recommend that when babies stop drinking formula or breastfeeding that they are supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids in their diet AND with cod liver oil. We recommend about 1000mg 3-4x weekly.
Following the Mediterranean diet that includes more veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fish along with healthier oils like olive oil will reduce the inflammatory overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids. Focusing of grass fed meat will also reduce the omega-6 intake.
If we are treating other immune conditions or mental health concerns, higher doses are usually recommended and can be as high as 6000mg daily. The only concern about doses higher than 4000mg daily is an increased risk of bleeding especially with surgery. Sometimes, supplements can produce nausea or heartburn.
In general, omega-3 supplements are well tolerated and are amongst our most useful supplements to promote health and wellness.
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