What’s the Difference Between Omega 3 and Omega 6?

This has to be one of the more important questions that need certain levels of exploration. Both the omega 3 and omega 6 are fats, well fatty acids if there is a need to be technical, and they are actually quite important for a human’s body despite the fact the body can not make either omega 3 or omega 6 on its own. The two: alpha linolenic acid (ALA) – an omega 3 fatty acid and linoleic acid (LA) – an omega 6 fatty acid has to be consumed on a regular basis by someone in order to maintain healthy levels of both fats.

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Another fun fact is that both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids could be used to make other fatty acids although because of efficiency it would be advised for a person just to get their intake of fatty acids from the food that they eat. Another similarity between omega 3 and omega 6 is that they are both polyunsaturated fatty acids as they both have more than one double bond link between the carbon atoms this, in turn, limits the hydrogen atoms that might bind to the carbon atoms. This leaves the overall molecule unsaturated with the occurrence of hydrogen atoms, well at least, not as often as the molecule could have been. The omega numbers simply reference how many carbons away from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain that the first carbon-carbon double bond appears. 

If the double bond is three carbons away, – between the 3rd and 4th carbon atoms – it’s called an omega 3 fatty acid and so subsequently if it is six carbons away – usually between the 6th and 7th carbon atoms – then it is called omega 6. Really simple mathematics when you get right down to it. Importantly, both these two fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) work together to aid a person’s heart and brain, and a lot of these benefits overlap between the two. However, there are some key factors that differentiate between the two fatty acids and it is not just the carbon atoms that bond them.

Omega 3

Considered the healthier of the two, omega 3 fatty acids have been noted to prevent heart disease, have anti-inflammatory benefits, and could help to lower blood pressure. They are also said to play an important role in brain, nerve, and eye development in infants and keep the immune system healthy. 

There are three types of omega-3 fats: the previously mentioned Alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) – which is the plant form of omega 3 fatty acid and is found in flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, and canola and soybean oils; Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – is the marine form of omega 3 and is predominantly found in seafood, such as fish, shellfish but could also be found in grass-fed meat, dairy, and omega 3 enriched eggs and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – another marine omega 3 and is found most frequently in herring, sturgeon, salmon, eel and shrimp.

Omega 6

Omega 6 fatty acids, because of the food they are found in, are the more commonly occurring fatty acid out of the two. There are four types of omega 6 fats: Linoleic acid (LA) – this is notably the most highly consumed polyunsaturated fatty acid found in the human diet, it is most commonly found in vegetable oils, sunflower seeds and pine nuts; Arachidonic Acid (ARA) – is found in foods such as poultry, animal organs and meat, fish, seafood, and eggs; Gamma linoleic acid (GLA) – most commonly found in the seeds of the evening primrose, GLA is considered important for maintaining brain function, reproductive health, and metabolism; Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – the arrangement of the double bonds in the fatty acid is how this particular molecule earned its prefix conjugated, dairy and meat from cows, goats and sheep are its main source. 

Omega 6 fatty acids as a collective, in addition to the aforementioned benefits to maintaining brain function, reproductive health, and metabolism also regulating genes, promoting immune system health and blood clotting. Omega 6 fats can also help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and dermatitis among other health issues.

Another important distinction between omega 3 and omega 6 is the ratio that is needed from the two fatty acids to maintain a healthy body. There is data that shows that over the last 150 years, intakes of omega 6 have increased and intakes of omega 3 have decreased in parallel with the increase in heart disease. Thus, the concept of an ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in the diet was developed. 

Omega 6 fatty acids are considered inflammatory meaning they promote inflammation and thus would trigger diseases while omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and help prevent diseases. Doctors have formed a consensus that the optimal ratio for health is 4 to 1 omega 6 to omega 3 this is juxtaposed against modern American diets that typically boast an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio around 10 to 1, sometimes as high as 30 to 1, unfortunately. 

Both omega 3 and omega 6 are a family of healthy polyunsaturated fats that are very important for proper functioning of the body. Although their structural functions are very similar, they have quite different regulatory roles. That being said, it would be best to combine omega 3 and omega 6 to lower the risk of many diseases more than each one separately. The best plan of action would be for a person to make sure that their diet is rich in omega 3 foods and be extra conscious and cautious of consuming an excess of foods high in omega 6.

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