What are Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Fats are an essential component of your diet, and omega-3, 6, and 9 are important dietary fats. Each of these fatty acids has health benefits when consumed in the right balance. Any imbalance in these fatty acids can result in many health conditions and diseases.
Omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Numbers 3 and 6 in the name of these fatty acids indicate the position of the final double bond in the chemical structure of the fatty acids. They are known as ‘poly’ unsaturated because they have many double bonds. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are termed essential acids because our body cannot produce them. They need to be obtained through diet or supplements.
It is important to maintain a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. One must consume more omega-3 than omega-6. A reversed ratio of these fatty acids can result in chronic inflammation and diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, atherosclerosis, etc. This occurs because linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid compete for metabolism by the enzyme delta-6-desaturase. A higher intake of linoleic acid or omega-6 can reduce the amount of the delta-6-desaturase enzyme left for the metabolism of alpha-linoleic acid or omega-3. This can cause chronic health conditions in the body. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy ‘ideal’ ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Importance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Both omega-3 and 6-fatty acids are required by our body, and they play different roles. Both these essential fatty acids can be used to produce other fatty acids. They are also required for growth and repair in the body.
Omega- 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids form an integral part of cell membranes. The omega-3 fatty acid is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, regulates blood pressure, and prevents fatal heart diseases. In fact, studies are focused on studying how omega-3 can protect one from diabetes and some types of cancer.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are said to provide energy and linoleic acid is the most common omega-6 fatty acid. Excessive consumption of omega-6 can cause increased blood pressure, the formation of blood clots, and increased water retention.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
- Help fight depression
- Promote brain health during pregnancy and right after birth
- Improve vision
- Reduce the risk of heart diseases
- Reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome
- Help fight inflammation
- Prevent autoimmune diseases
- Reduce inflammation and inflammatory conditions in the body
- God for your joints
- Known to improve sleep
- Reduce the risk of cancer
Health Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids:
- Help lower cholesterol levels
- Lower bad cholesterol or LDL levels
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Raises HDL or good cholesterol in the blood
Recommended Dietary Intake(RDI)
There are no specific numbers of Recommended Dietary Intake(RDI) of omega-3 fatty acids, but the Adequate Intake of this essential fatty acid as given by the Board of Institute of Medicine is:
- Adult Males: 1.6 g/day
- Adult Females: 1.1 g/day
- Pregnancy: 1.4 g/day
- Lactation: 1.3 g/day
According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine, the Adequate Intake of omega-6 fatty acid for 19-50 years age group is:
- Adult Males: 17 g
- Adult Females: 12 g
How Does Genetics Influence Omega-3 and Omega-6 Levels?
The FADS2 Gene
The FADS2 or the Fatty Acid Desaturase 2 Gene provides instructions for the preparation of the delta-6-desaturase enzyme. Delta-5 and delta-6-desaturase are the enzymes that are part of the slowest step in the production of polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
rs3834458 is a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP in the FADS2 gene. The T allele of this SNP plays a role in the reduced activity of delta-6-desaturase. This may lead to higher omega-3 and omega-6 levels in the body.
The MTHFR Gene
Mutations or changes in the MTHFR or methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene results in an excessive build-up of homocysteine in the blood and reduces levels of folates and other vitamins.
rs4846052 is an SNP located on chromosome 1 and associated with the _MTHFR _ gene. The different forms or genotypes (TT, CT, and CC) of this SNP were associated with PUFA levels in red blood cells (RBCs). Higher levels of RBC DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid), EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid), ARA (Arachidonic acid is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid), and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) and were observed for the TT genotype versus TC and CC genotypes.
Non-genetic Factors Influencing Omega 3/6 Levels
While the metabolism of these fatty acids is dependent upon genetics, there are few non-genetic factors that affect one’s omega-3 and omega-6 levels in the body.
Since diet is the primary source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, the levels of these fatty acids and their right ratio is dependent upon the foods consumed by an individual.
Many conditions like pregnancy or other metabolic disorders require an additional supplement of omega-3 and omega-6 to maintain their optimum levels in the blood. Therefore, in these individuals, the supplements influence the levels of omega-3 and omega-6.
Regular exercise and workouts help maintain the right ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood.
Many systemic conditions can alter the metabolism of omega-3 and omega-6, thereby affecting their levels in the body.
The Effects Of Inadequate Omega-3 and Omega-6 Levels
Though omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential, you will be surprised to know that nearly 90% of the population falls short of their target intake. A reduced level of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids results in a deficiency. Common deficiency symptoms of these fatty acids include:
- Changes in skin, hair, and nails
- Decreased concentration and attentive power
- Leg cramps and joint aches
- Changes in the menstrual cycle in women
- An increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
- Feeling low and depressed
Recommendations to Maintain Adequate Levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6
The goal here is to maintain a healthy omega-3/omega-6 ratio. Here are a few recommendations to improve your omega-3 and omega-6 levels:
- Consume foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These include seafood like salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, and others.
- Vegetarian foods that are rich in omega-3 include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soya beans.
- Avoid vegetable cooking oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids and can disrupt the ratio with omega-3.
- Taking omega-3 fatty nutritional supplements consistently at the same time every day can help you maintain optimum and adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for your body and are called essential fats because your body cannot produce them.
- Both these fatty acids perform different roles in the body. Omega-3 is found in cell membranes and affects the function of receptors in these cells. Omega-6 is known to provide energy.
- For a healthy body, it is essential to maintain a healthy ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. An imbalance in the ratio can give rise to chronic inflammatory diseases.
- While there is no recommended dietary intake for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, everyone must get an adequate intake of these essential fatty acids.
- There are few genes like FADS2, MTHFR, and PEMT and their SNPs that affect the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 levels in the body.
- Both these fatty acids have many health benefits to the body when consumed in optimum quantities.