3,6 & 9 The Total Oils Solution
Fat used to be a dirty word. The fat that accumulates in us isn’t quite the same as the fats found in food. The presence of fat is usually enough to put you off eating certain foods, but there is one group of fats that is aptly, and accurately, termed ‘essential’ that many of us could do with getting a little more of.
It’s increasingly understood that there are groups of ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats. ‘Bad’ fats include saturated fats – found in red meat, butter and the like – and trans-fats, which are created through the chemical process used in the hydrogenation of oils. These are often found in products like cooking oils, cakes and biscuits. However, one group of fats – known as Essential Fatty Acids (or EFAs) – can significantly enhance your health and play a vital role in the way your body functions.
“It’s increasingly understood that there are groups of ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats...”
The most well-known EFAs are Omega 3 and Omega 6. It is important to gain a sufficient amount of these from your diet as the body cannot manufacture them and has to derive them from either food sources or supplements. Another ‘good’ fat is Omega 9. This can be made by your body, but only in limited quantities, so it is a good idea to also ensure you are getting enough of this from your diet or through supplementation as well.
Omega 3 – Linolenic Acid
Omega 3 is converted by the body into EPA and DHA which are anti-inflammatory agents called Prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are known to support cardiovascular health as they help improve blood flow and may help to reduce levels of cholesterol and blood fats. DHA is beneficial to brain function, and has been found to have a potentially profound effect on age-related memory conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been proven to help children experiencing behavioural problems – such as ADHD and hyperactivity – as well as lowering the incidence of disruptive and violent behaviour.
Omega 3 is most commonly found in oily fish but it can also be found in vegetarian sources, such as linseeds.
Omega 6 – Linoleic Acid
Omega 6 is converted by the body into GLA – another Prostaglandin known to help keep the blood thin. It therefore can help to lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation and pain, improve nerve and immune function and support healthy weight loss. This is partly by helping the sugar storage hormone, insulin, to balance blood sugar levels, thus preventing fat storage and maintaining water balance. Omega-6 is found in nuts, but these tend to be higher in saturated fats, so seeds can be a better option.
Omega 9 contains two important compounds – stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, but it is thought to be most likely used within the body as energy, rather than being stored as fat. It can also be converted into something called oleic acid. Oleic acid itself isn’t an essential fat, but it is important for the healthy functioning of the skin glands. It is a monounsaturated fat, which unlike Omega 3 and 6, is not classed as ‘essential’ as the body can convert it from carbohydrates. Omega 9 is still however an important part of the daily diet and supports Omega 3 and Omega 6 by playing a role in lowering cholesterol levels and reducing inflammation in the body.
I frequently find that many people simply aren’t able to derive enough EFAs from their diet. Also, having an imbalance between Omega 3 and 6 can cause problems in itself – some experts believe conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes could be due to deficiencies and/or imbalances in EFAs. The ideal ratio of Omega 3; 6; 9 is 2 : 2 : 1. A combined supplement can help you achieve the correct balance. And, even if you eat a balanced diet, Omega 3 in particular can prove quite difficult to get from your food alone, so supplements can be a good idea.
Like many other vitamins and minerals, EFAs can’t work in isolation and need other nutrients to help the body use them more efficiently. If you are taking EFAs, you may also want to ensure you are getting optimum doses of Zinc, Selenium, and vitamins A, C and E. These all work in synergy to optimise the efficacy of your EFAs.
What if I’m vegetarian?
While EFAs are found in abundance in fish oils, there are many good vegetarian sources. Flaxseed, hemp, pumpkin seed, safflower, sesame and evening primrose oils can all be used as effective alternatives to fish oils.
The essential fatty acids – Omega 3, 6 and 9 – are now widely acknowledged as extremely beneficial to many of our bio-chemical functions and as building blocks to the cells in our body. The body uses them to keep the nerves, cells and brain functioning at optimum levels, they can help fight inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. They have an excellent effect on the functioning of the brain, and studies have shown they can be especially effective at helping with both Alzheimer’s in the elderly and hyperactivity in children. They body cannot manufacture its own omega 3 and 6, so it is vital to give you body a steady supply. It can manufacture some Omega 9, but usually not enough to keep you in optimum health.