All you need to know about omega 3 and omega 6
When we talk about omega's, we talk about fatty acids. Most often you will come across omega 3, omega 6, omega 7 and omega 9:
- Omega 3 and Omega 6: groups of essential POLY-unsaturated fatty acids. Poly-unsaturated means that there is more than one double bondage in the fatty acid chain, which makes the fatty acid less stable to heat, oxygen and light.
- Omega 7 and omega 9: another word for non-essential MONO-unsaturated fatty acids. Mono-unsaturated means that there is only one double bondage in the fatty acid chain, which makes the fatty acid more stable to heat, oxygen and light. All olive oils, almonds, avocados and macadamias, but also canola and rapeseed oils are naturally rich in omega 7 and 9 (the latter not being on my list of recommended foods). Also animal foods like dairy, sardines or eggs do contain them to some extent. However, sometimes you will see products being advertised with this feature, as if it was something special. This is just a marketing trick to benefit from the public awareness and bust around omega fatty acids. Don't be fooled by it.
Both, omega 3's and omega 6's are essential for our bodies - meaning that the body needs them, yet cannot produce them by itself, so we need to ingest them via food. They fulfill many important functions in our body, for example:
- Optimal functioning of the cell membranes
- Hormone and immune system regulation
- Lowers blood pressure
- Brain function, growth and development
- Optimal functioning of the metabolism
- Hormone and immune system regulation
- Blood clotting
- Pro-inflammatory AND anti-inflammatory (depends on type of omega 6)
It's all about the ratio
Omega 3 and omega 6 balance each other out - for example, the pro-inflammatory effect of omega 6 is counter-balanced by the anti-inflammatory effect of omega 3. In order for this to happen, the ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid intake would be 1:1 or max 5:1. However, with our modern diets, we easily reach ratios of 20:1. This imbalance is an important contributing factor for:
- Many of our modern inflammatory diseases
- High blood pressure & blood clots
- Depression of hormone & immune function
- Irritatation of the gut
- Weight gain
Read more here.
Does this mean omega 6 is bad?
Absolutely NOT. As already mentioned, omega 6s are just as essential to our bodies as omega 3s. However, we are simply consuming too much of certain (pro-inflammatory) types of omega 6, i.e. linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA), while often even lacking others, i.e. (anti-inflammatory) gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and dihomo gamma linoleic acid (DGLA), which are both super important for your hormonal health (among others). So it’s a matter of quantity AND quality - and also a matter of having adequate amounts of certain nutrients in the body (especially magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6) because those help convert abundant types of omega 6, such as LA, into less abundant types, such as GLA and DGLA. In order to correct the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, it is thus important to dramatically reduce our intake of foods rich in low quality omega 6, especially cheap vegetable oils, while increasing our intake of foods rich in omega 3’s and high quality omega 6's and to make sure our body gets the nutrients it needs to properly convert LA into GLA and DGLA.
Low quality source:
- Most vegetable oils (esp. safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, cottonseed, peanut, canola and rapeseed)
- Soy, corn, peanuts
- Soy and corn-fed animals (incl. fish from aquaculture) and their products
High quality source:
- Nuts & seeds (almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, sesame, flax, pumpkin, sunflower), ideally soaked and/or sprouted
- Black Currant Seed, Borage and Evening Primrose oils (only direct foods sources of GLA and DGLA)
Before talking about food sources of omega 3 it is important to explain the different types of omega 3: ALA, EPA, DHA. ALA is the plant-based form of omega 3 whereas EPA and DHA are contained in animal foods (and some micro algae in small quantities). EPA and especially DHA are the usable forms for the body, so ALA needs to be converted to EPA and from EPA to DHA. The body has only a limited ability to synthesize EPA from ALA (5%) and DHA from EPA (0,5%). This means that the best sources of omega 3 for the body are:
- Wild fatty fish (sardines, mackerel, trout, herring, salmon): Best source, you should aim for 400g of those per week, which is about 3 servings.
- Organic, free-range, pasture-fed animal products (eggs, dairy, meat)
- Algae, such as Wakame or spirulina: do contain DHA, but only in very low doses (to cover your daily needs with spirulina, you would need to ingest 200g)
- Flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts contain plant-based omega 3, which - as mentioned above - is far less absorbed and also contain a lot of omega 6
How much is enough?
How much omega 3 you need depends on many factors:
- Where you get your omega 3 from: food or supplements (it seems it is much better absorbed from food than from supplements, e.g. from whole fish as opposed to fish oil)
- The type of omega 3 you are consuming: DHA and EPA (usable forms) vs. ALA (unusable form that first has to be converted).
- What you eat with your omega's: taking omega 3 supplements together with a high fat meal seems to increase assimilation
- Your intake of omega 6: excessive omega 6 blocks the absorption of omega 3, which is why it is crucial to not just increase omega 3, but to also reduce omega 6, especially from low quality sources (see above) simultaneously. Update: It seems that as long your needs for DHA and EPA are met (through eating fatty fish for example), you do not have to watch your intake of HIGH quality omega 6 from nuts, seeds or avocados. Those just pose a problem, if you are only ingesting ALA omega 3, in other words, if you are a strict vegan or vegetarian.
- Your general ability to absorb fats: depends on the state of your liver and gallbladder and also your intestines
- Your Metabolic Type and constitution: different foods have different effects in different people. Certain Metabolic Types seem to need less omega 3 and seem to do very well with the plant-based sources, while others cannot handle those at all and need the fish-based ones. It’s also about the food as a whole, incl. its energetcis. For example, algae are very "cold" on the body, which is beneficial for certain types, but for others it is detrimental, even if those algae contain omega 3.
As a general rule of thumb, total omega intake should not exceed 10g per day, of which about 2-3g should be omega 3 and 7-8g omega 6. Why? Because both, omega 3 and omega 6 belong to the highly sensitive and reactive group of poly-unsaturated fatty acids. They get easily damaged by heat, light or oxygen, causing so-called free-radicals that promote cell damage. More of a good thing is not always better.
What about supplements?
Ideally you would get all your omega 3 from food. With only 400g or 3 servings of fatty fish per week you would be covered. As a general rule, the smaller the fish, the safer in terms of contamination, since at the bottom of the food chain (tip: taking a chlorella based supplement 30min before fish consumption can help to lower the absorption of potential toxins as well).
However, if you do not like fish or have no access to it, a high quality omega 3 supplement can be very useful. It's one of the essential supplements I recommend to basically anyone. However, you must choose wisely! Many products are highly processed, exposing those sensitive fatty acids to high heat, pressure and chemicals, so that the end product is often rancid , potentially causing more harm than good. Many contain heavy metals too. Omega 3 supplements should never come in transparent packaging, since light also oxidizes unsaturated fatty acids.
Criteria for choosing a good product:
- Sourced from a sustainable source
- Product not contaminated with heavy metals
- Careful extraction without chemicals, high heat and high pressure
- Non-transparent packaging
The dose depends on your dietary habits and the overall state of your digestive system. You should aim for 2g of total EPA/DHA per day, incl. food.
Personally, I use krill oil and fish oil interchangeably. Krill oil is said to be better absorbed and also more sustainable, yet it is also more expensive. I take a maintenance dose of 2,5ml fish oil (1/2 teaspoon, supplying around 1g of EPA/DHA, of which maybe 60% is absorbed = 600mg, cost approx 0,62 Euro per day) or 5 capsules of krill oil (supplying around 625mg of EPA/DHA, cost around 1,67 Euro per day). For babies and children I recommend the liquid fish oil (it doesn`t have a taste). Please note that I do eat a lot of fish as well, so if you don't do that, you might need double the dose!
If you take cod liver oil for vitamin A and D already, you might not need to take an additional omega 3 supplement, since the cod liver oil also contains natural omega 3 fatty acids (check label for amounts per dose).
I recommend the following brands:
- Omega 3 Fish Oil (available in liquid form or capsules): Pharmax, available at www.synergisticseurope.com (please provide the code CK9776 under "CMTA/advisor")
- Krill Oil: available at www.ergomax.nl
- Cod Liver Oil (available in liquid form or capsules): Rosita Real Foods available at www.ergomax.nl
Again, you need to reduce your omega 6 intake, especially from "low quality" sources (see above) simultaneously! Simply taking an omega 3 supplement without reducing omega 6 intake is NOT a good idea, since too much of a good thing can turn into its opposite.
Omega 6 supplements
As mentioned above, we tend to get more than enough linoleic acid from food, but are sometimes short on GLA and DGLA. Both GLA and DGLA are super important for your hormones (especially progesterone) and thus crucial if you want to conceive (but also if you don't want to conceive). While normally the body can convert LA into GLA and from there into DGLA, you need to have high stores of magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6 in order for that process to function optimally. The fact that there are only two direct food sources for GLA proves that this should be the "normal" way the body gets those important fatty acids and thus our primary aim should be to restore those nutrients. However, in the short term you can help your body by taking Black Currant Seed Oil during the second half of your cycle.
I recommend these products:
Now Foods Black Currant Double Strength (1000mg capsules) available at: http://amzn.to/2jjqzQv
Black Currant Seed oil liquid (60ml) available here: https://maienfelser-naturkosmetik.de/Johannisbeersamenoel-BIO