Fish is healthy – mainly because it contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to health on many levels. However, for many people, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is not balanced.
The Inuit, indigenous to Greenland, traditionally feed almost exclusively on fish, whales and seal meat. Despite a one-sided high-fat diet, they are surprisingly healthy. It could also be because fat is not the same as fat. The staple foods of the Inuit are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, prompting researchers to take a closer look at the health effects of unsaturated fatty acids.
It is now clear that over the course of evolution, the Inuit have developed a gene mutation that gives their bodies a unique metabolism of fat. Thus, your fatty diet will be far less beneficial for most people around the world than for them. However, thanks to the Inuit, we now know more about unsaturated fatty acids and their positive effects on the body.
In this article, you can read what are the functions of omega-3 and omega-6 in the body, how you consume fatty acids, and why it is problematic that most people today control too little omega-3.
What are fatty acids?
Fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 are chemical compounds and are an important component of the fats in our food. A fat molecule usually consists of alcohol, glycerol, and three fatty acids. These fatty acids are so-called monocarboxylic acids with a long carbon chain attached to them.
In general, all types of fat perform the following tasks in the body:
- Energy source: One gram of fat provides nearly nine kilocalories.
- Taste: fatty food tastes better for many
- Heat production
- Energy warehouses
It is a part of cell membranes and is necessary for the assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin D and vitamins A, E and K).
What are unsaturated fatty acids?
Fatty acids can be divided into two categories: saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids, which also include omega-3 and omega-6. Unsaturated fatty acids have so-called double bonds between carbon atoms, which distinguishes them from saturated fatty acids in their chemical structure.
The type of fatty acids is critical to the properties of the fat. He decides whether the fat is liquid or solid and whether it can be heated. Fats, which are composed primarily of unsaturated fatty acids, are usually liquid at room temperature – oil is a good example of this. Saturated fats, on the other hand, are in solid form, such as meat and butter.
Saturated fatty acids are considered unhealthy fats. They increase the production of cholesterol in the body and raise blood triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a source of energy, but in large quantities can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. they are not significantly harmful to health – recent studies even claim to have the positive effects of saturated fatty acids. Because they can raise cholesterol levels, saturated fat shouldn’t make up more than ten percent of your daily calorie intake.
Trans Fatty Acids
Trans fatty acids are found in small amounts in beef and cow’s milk. More is created when oils are industrially hardened or unsaturated fatty acids are heated intensely for a long time, such as during deep-frying. Trans fats are found not only in fried foods like French fries, but also in spreads, cookies, and many baked goods.
Large amounts of trans fatty acids are harmful to health, they increase the risk of atherosclerosis and other diseases. They can quickly lead to a buildup in the blood and therefore impair circulation. In addition, trans fats increase the “bad” LDL cholesterol and can cause so-called microinflammatory processes in our cells. This makes trans fats really bad for your health.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids, that is, fatty acids with multiple double bonds on carbon atoms. The position of the first double bond between atoms determines whether a chemical is an omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acid. If the first double bond is on the third carbon bond, it is an omega-3 fatty acid. When it comes to the sixth carbon compound, it’s an omega-6 fatty acid.
Which omega-3 fatty acids are important?
Individual fatty acids, in turn, differ in the number of carbon atoms. The most important omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) – 18 Carbon
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – 20 carbon atoms
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – 22 carbon atoms
What are essential fatty acids?
Essential fatty acids such as the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid and the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid cannot be produced by the human body itself. We have to feed them through food.
Alpha linolenic acid is converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in the body. DHA and EPA are also known as active omega-3 fatty acids – the body can use them directly and let them work.
What foods contain omega-3 fatty acids?
Alpha-linolenic acid is found in high amounts in some plant foods, especially flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, chia seeds, and walnuts. In the body, ALA is converted into two fatty acids DHA and EPA. However, losses can occur during conversion, so ALA often only produces small amounts of EPA and DHA.
|Alpha-linolenic acid in mg / 100 g
It is more effective to take EPA and DHA directly. However, the two omega-3 fatty acids are found almost exclusively in high-fat cold water fish. Fish rich in omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines.
|EPA in g / 100 g
|DHA in g / 100 g
|Omega-3s (total) in g / 100 g
Good to know – Why are fish so high in omega-3s? Cold water fish primarily feed on algae and crustaceans, which are high in the omega-3 fatty acids ALA, EPA and DHA. Fish depend on these fatty acids, so their cell membranes do not harden at low sea temperatures.
How much omega-3 do I need per day?
Specialized Nutritional Societies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland recommend for three important omega-3 fatty acids: 250 mg EPA and 250 mg DHA per day. In addition, alpha-linolenic acid should make up 0.5 percent of your daily energy intake.
Large amounts, on average two to four grams of omega-3s per day, may improve the condition of people with coronary artery disease and depression in studies.
America’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), in turn, recommend different amounts of omega-3 depending on the age group, here in milligrams per day:
|Birth before 6 months
|7 to 12 months
|4 to 8 years old
|9-13 years old
|14 and older
To consume more than two grams of omega-3 per day, you need to consume 5 grams of flaxseed oil daily. Fish is easier: just two times a week of sea fish a week is enough to meet your needs.
Omega-3 Supply Status
In the Western world, most people consume too little omega-3. The German Nutrition Society estimates, for example, that Germans consume just under 200 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids a day, while children only 100 milligrams.
If you eat vegetarian or vegan, or don’t eat fish for other reasons, it can be difficult to get enough EPA and DHA fatty acids from your diet. If this is the case, consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
Why do I need Omega-3?
Like other fats, omega-3 fatty acids are energy suppliers, components of cell membranes, and energy stores. In addition, they perform a wide variety of functions in the body. These include:
- Tissue hormone formation
- Antioxidant effect
- Thinning blood (anticoagulant) and lowering blood pressure
- Strengthening the immune system and protecting against infections
- Expansion of the vessel
The body appears to be able to perform all of these tasks better if it is sufficiently supplied with omega-3s. Various studies in recent years have shown that fatty acids can help prevent or treat certain diseases.
Omega-3 and Heart Health
There have been many studies on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association and Harvard University researchers recommend eating fish rich in omega-3s regularly to prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of premature death.
In Omega-3 Research, Could:
- Reduce your risk of heart attack by 19-45 percent.
- It Reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 45 percent.
- Control of heart rhythm disturbances.
In animal experiments in mice, omega-3 fatty acids act to counteract inflammation in blood vessels, suggesting that they can be used to prevent and treat arteriosclerosis. However, there have been no human clinical studies to support this.
People with heart failure should be careful with excess omega-3s. Fatty acids can reduce the excitability of heart cells, which reduces cardiac activity and can be problematic for an already weak heart.
Effects of Omega-3s on the brain and psyche
Omega-3 fatty acids also enter brain cells and, according to some studies, may have a positive effect on the development of the brain and psyche. In some studies, fish oil supplementation may have reduced the risk of depression and anxiety disorders and improved the course of psychosis.
Omega-3s may also have an effect on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Some studies suggest that a diet rich in omega-3s can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and improve the mood of those affected.
Studies in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have also shown that omega-3 supplements can improve attention and reduce hyperactivity.
Did Omega-3 Fatty Acids Make Human Sapience? Some researchers suspect that humans could only have become this smart over the course of evolution, because the unsaturated fatty acids in our food made our brains grow faster.
Omega-3 strengthens the immune system
The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids can also help weaken the immune system. This may have a positive effect on immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism, asthma and Crohn’s disease – the latter found in studies with high doses of omega-3 drugs.
Omega-3 for pregnant women and children
In children, fatty acids are likely to play a role in brain development. Research has shown that omega-3s have positive effects, in particular, on reading ability, concentration and attention. Therefore, as a parent, it is worth making sure your child is eating enough omega-3 fatty acids. In this context, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers can also take care of their diet. Even in the womb, Omega-3 supports the physical and mental development of the baby.
Fish have a catch: some fish that are rich in omega-3s, especially large predatory fish such as tuna, halibut, swordfish and eel, often contain high amounts of toxic heavy metallic mercury. Health authorities recommend that pregnant women and children avoid these types of fish, as mercury can interfere with the development of the nervous system. For example, pollock, herring and cod are less contaminated (read more about mercury and other toxic heavy metals here).
How does omega-3 affect our gut health?
Our taste buds enjoy the taste of fat. With some fats, the gut also joins in the joy – it especially enjoys omega-3 fatty acids and their health effects. Research can continually observe how omega-3 fatty acids can positively influence the composition of trillions of gut bacteria.
Omega-3 fatty acids can stimulate the growth and colonization of healthy bacteria that are beneficial to gut health. DHA has been able to support the growth of Lachnospiracea bacteria in some studies. These bacteria form abundant anti-inflammatory butyric acid, which may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Using stool samples, the researchers were able to determine that omega-3 fatty acids improve the composition of bacteria, which are usually at an unfavorable ratio for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
Studies have shown that dietary supplements containing omega-3s can increase the number of healthy gut bacteria. When the subjects stopped taking the supplements, the bacteria in the study dropped to their original levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids and allergies
Omega-3 fatty acids can also be effective aids in allergy prevention. Omega-3 supplementation in the last trimester of pregnancy may reduce the risk of allergic asthma in newborns. In addition, the risk of developing food allergies in the first year of life, such as egg allergy, may be reduced. Researchers believe that omega-3 fatty kitties.
Did you know? Unlike healthy people, people with allergic asthma have fewer omega-3 fatty acids in the cells of the nasal mucosa.
Breast milk as a protection against allergies
Whether breastfeeding can protect against allergies is open to question: a study by Uppsala University in Sweden concluded that breastfeeding may not help prevent allergies. Other studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids in breast milk can reduce the risk of allergies. According to the study, children who receive formula-free infant formula without omega-3 may be more prone to developing allergies. German guidelines for physicians recommend that nursing mothers take care of the omega-3 intake, as the supply of the mother seems to also affect the omega-3 content in breast milk. In addition, according to the guidelines, mothers should be introducing additional food from the fifth month – doctors suspect that introducing additional food reduces the risk of allergies, but this has not yet been scientifically proven.
In a nutshell: Various studies confirm that omega-3s can help cardiovascular disease and mental illness, such as preventing depression and positively impacting the immune system and brain development.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Chemical difference: with omega-6 fatty acids, the atomic double bond is at the sixth carbon atom.
The most important omega-6 fatty acids:
- Linoleic acid – 18 carbon atoms
- Gamma Linolenic Acid – 18 Carbon
- Arachidonic acid – 20 carbon atoms
Among the omega-6 fatty acids, linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that our body cannot produce on its own. If we take linoleic acid in our diet, the body can produce gamma-linolenic acid and arachidonic acid from it.
Why do people need omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are opposed to omega-3 fatty acids in many ways. Omega 6 challenges include:
- Blood clotting
- Blood pressure regulation
- Reducing cholesterol levels
- Growth and repair processes
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, while omega-6 fatty acids are designed to stimulate inflammation. This is due to the fact that arachidonic acid omega-6 fatty acids form certain tissue hormones, which in turn generate free radicals. Free radicals attack the body’s own cells, leading to inflammation.
What foods contain omega-6 fatty acids?
Omega-6 fatty acids are mainly found in vegetables and some animal products:
|Omega-6 mg / 100g
|Milk thistle oil
|Pumpkin seed oil
Good to know: food usually never contains only one type of fatty acid. Saturated fatty acids are also found in coconut oil. Coconut oil is considered to be quite unhealthy. Olive oil, in turn, contains other unsaturated fatty acids that are important to us.
How much omega-6 do I need per day?
US Food and Nutrition Board. The Institute of Medicine, for example, recommends that adult men consume 14 grams of linoleic acid per day and 11 grams for women. The German Nutrition Society recommends covering 2.5 percent of your daily calorie intake with omega-6 fatty acids.
In fact, most people in America and Europe consume enough Omega-6, deficiency is extremely rare. It is much more common to consume too little omega-3s and therefore an imbalance in fatty acids.
Ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3
If you want to fully benefit from the beneficial effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet, then the ratio / is important.
What should your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio look like?
Some researchers have suggested that our ancestors as hunter-gatherers still have a 1 to 1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. In accordance with this ratio, evolution designed our bodies.
With our modern diet, which contains many foods containing omega-6s, this ratio can hardly be achieved. Fish, rich in omega-3s, ends up on the plate much less frequently than wheat bread with omega-6 rich margarine, or food that is fried or seasoned with vegetable oil. Therefore, specialized societies such as the German Nutrition Society recommend an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 5 to 1.
But most people in the Western world are far from these recommendations. It is estimated that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages 15: 1. Especially in Europe and America, significantly more omega-6 foods are consumed than omega-3 foods. Therefore, for most people it is worth consuming less omega-6 fatty acids and more omega-3 fatty acids.
This table shows the relationship between two types of fatty acids in certain foods:
|Ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3
|Canned tuna (no oil)
|Canned tuna (marinated in oil)
Why is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio important?
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids regulate the processes in the blood vessels and are involved in inflammatory processes. While omega-3 fatty acids dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow and suppress inflammation, omega-6 fatty acids do the opposite. They constrict blood vessels, promote blood clotting and are inflammatory.
|Omega-3 (eicosapentaenoic acid)
|Expansion of the vessel
If both fatty acids are in balance, one speaks of an inflammation-neutral state – and this is considered beneficial for health. It can help maintain the stability of the blood vessels, the immune system runs smoothly, and the blood supplies the body with important nutrients.
Excess omega-6 fatty acids can lead to vasoconstriction and blood clots. In this case, blood may flow less efficiently through the arteries and veins and supply organs and muscles with less nutrients. In addition, too much omega-6 fatty acids increase the risk of inflammation in, for example, the heart and lungs. Some studies have also found that overweight people often have significantly higher omega-6 levels. The ratio in favor of Omega-6 can promote the formation of fat cells and increase the risk of weight gain.
Severe excess omega-3 fatty acids can also be problematic. Research has linked high amounts of omega-3s to an increased risk of prostate cancer and weakened immune defenses against viruses and bacteria. However, you can hardly consume too much omega-3 from your diet. Such cases only occur when people are taking high doses of omega-3 supplements.
What are the symptoms of omega-3 deficiency?
If there is a lack of omega-3 and an excess of omega-6, the following symptoms may appear:
- Fatigue and depression
- Bad memory
- Dry skin
- Heart problems, high blood pressure and vasoconstriction
- Increased susceptibility to infections
Tip. Use the following links to find self-tests for fatigue, depression, and a weakened immune system.
The relationship between omega-3 and omega-6 can be determined in the blood – laboratory tests show various fatty acids and their relationship to each other.
How do I check my omega-3 levels?
How well your omega fatty acid supply can be determined, for example, by a self-test. With the cerascreen® Omega-3 test, you can do this test from home. You take a small sample of blood yourself with a prick in your finger and send it to a specialized laboratory. The laboratory determines the content of fatty acids in the blood and calculates the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 and the omega-3 index, i.e. the proportion of omega-3 fatty acids in the total fatty acid content. You will also receive advice on how to improve your values, for example, by changing your diet or taking supplements.
If you want to create a balanced relationship between Omega-6 and Omega-3 through your diet, the recommendation from specialist societies such as the World Health Organization and the German Nutrition Society is to take this at least twice a week with fish meal in cold water.
This is, of course, difficult for people who don’t like fish, as well as for vegetarians and vegans. You can try to include in your diet rich in omega-3 plant foods such as flaxseed, canola, and walnut oil. If that’s not enough to determine a good ratio of fatty acids, Omega-3 supplements can help improve your performance.
What Omega-3 Supplements Should I Take?
Good formulations should contain omega-3 fatty acids in their active form, i.e. EPA and DHA fatty acids. Thus, the body can use Omega-3 directly. In addition, the preparation should contain as few additives as possible, so as not to worsen the effect. Added antioxidants to extend the life of the product.
Usually nutritional supplements consist of omega-3 capsules and drops with measuring spoons. Many of the supplements are based on Fischöl – so vegetarians and vegans should pay attention to what the product is made of when purchasing. Vegan omega-3 supplements are usually prepared using algae oil.
Good to know: Omega-3s for athletes. Researchers are still investigating whether omega-3 supplements keep you fit. Initial research showed that omega-3 fatty acids can stimulate muscle growth and endurance, and shorten the post-workout regeneration phases.
Omega 3 and Omega 6: at a glance
What are omega fatty acids?
Fatty acids like Omega-3 and Omega-6 are an important part of the fat in our food. As unsaturated fatty acids, they have a characteristic chemical structure: the atoms in their long carbon chains have so-called double bonds. With omega-3 fatty acids, the first double bond is on the third carbon atom, with omega-6 fatty acids on the sixth.
What are essential fatty acids?
Fatty acids are called “essential” if our body cannot produce them on its own, but we must supply them through food. Essential fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid omega-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid omega-6 fatty acids.
Why are omega-3 fatty acids important?
Omega-3 performs many important tasks in the body. Among other things, fatty acids promote cardiovascular and mental health, strengthen the immune system and play a role in brain development in children.
What foods contain omega-6 fatty acids?
Omega 6 is found in many plant foods, such as margarine, sunflower oil, olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, and avocado. In the Western world, people tend to consume a lot of omega-6 fatty acids.
What foods contain omega-3 fatty acids?
The active forms of omega-3, which our bodies can use directly, are found almost exclusively in fish, such as mackerel, tuna, salmon and maggia. Some plant foods, such as flaxseed oil, canola oil, and walnuts, contain alpha-linolenic acid, which the body must first convert to active omega-3 fatty acids. Some fatty acids are lost.
How much omega-3 do I need per day?
Experts recommend one or two fish meals per week to provide omega-3s. According to experts, you need at least 250 milligrams a day to have enough omega-3s to keep your heart working, two grams or more is recommended. If you do not eat fish, you can take omega-3s through dietary supplements that are mostly based on fish oil or algae oil
Why is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio important?
Omega-3 has a vasodilator, anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant effect, Omega-6 – a vasoconstrictor, inflammatory and coagulant effect. To create balance and therefore neutralize inflammation, experts recommend a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of 5: 1 or lower – in the Western world this ratio is more likely to be 15: 1.