What are Omega Fatty Acids?

By Dr Harold Gunatillake

Let’s define what dietary fatty acids are. All fats are made of chains ofdouble or single bonded carbon atoms of varying lengthslinked with hydrogen atoms- to form fatty acid chains with a carboxyl group (C=O), thathas a hydroxyl group (O-H) attached at the end.

This discussion is on the most important dietary fatty acids required for healthy living. They are Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega 9, fatty acids among others. In saturated fatty chains there are no vacant or unsaturated linkages and cannot be further hydrogenated. Double bonds as mentioned earlier are only in unsaturated fats. In monounsaturated fats –(MUFA)like olive oil has only one pair of double bonds are empty of hydrogen atoms and hence referred to as mono-unsaturated fatty acids, whilst in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) there are many more vacancies. To simplify further, let’s say you are getting into a compartment of the train. If there is one vacant seat in the compartment –then it is in a state of mono-unsaturation: if there is more than one vacant seat scattered all over then it would be apoly-unsaturated situation. If all seats are filled, then it would be in a saturated position like the saturated oils like coconut, dairy or meat fat.

We cannot use these dietary fatty acids in a haphazard way, they should be used in the right balance and proportion, as any imbalance may contribute to a number of chronic diseases.

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory fatty acids whilst Omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory fatty acids. One should consume more omega-3 type of fatty acids in the ratio of 3:1 with omega-6 types. Omega-9 fatty acids like olive oil have no limits- more the merrier. Mediterranean’s just pour ad lib on salads

It is observed that Americans eat more inflammatory omega 6 fats, while just 20 percent come from the anti-inflammatory omega 3. In Japan, that number is reversed 80 percent of their fats come from oily fish while only 20 percent are inflammatory omega 6 fats.

Omega -3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids like the Omega -6 type of polyunsaturated fats, but it’s called an omega-3 type because there is a vacant double bond in the chemical structure, three carbon atoms  from the “omega “or tail end of the molecular chain.

These Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are called “essential” fats meaning that your body cannot manufacture them and you need to get from your diet. Omega 9 is produced by the body but limited amounts.

The essential chemicals in omega-3 are Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

EPA has 20- carbon atoms in the chemical chain, produces a chemical called Eicosapentaenoic acid.

Docosahexaenoic acid is found inside meat of cold water fish such as Mackerel, tuna, halibut, salmon and herring Meat and eggs have low levels. Mother’s milk provides DHA in the breast milk.

DHA is included in some infant formula to promote proper infant brain, eye and nerve developments. It is also given for migraine headaches, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) and other nervous system dysfunctions.

Omega 3 and 6 increase blood circulation throughout the body and prevents heart disease, lower triglycerides and blood pressure and can help with depression, mental health and arthritis. These fatty acids build healthy body cells, increases brain function, takes a critical role in cognitive development and learning protects against diabetes, cancer and lower blood cholesterol.

In fact, a recent and the most comprehensive review on omega 3 fats looked at 19 studies from 16 countries (including 45,637 participants) and found that those with the highest levels of omega 3 fats in their blood had lower risks of heart attacks.

Makes sense how not getting sufficient amounts of these crucial fatty acids can profoundly affect your health.(EcoWatch)

Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in the body of oily fish.It also comes from some green vegetables, and vegetable oils, walnuts. The benefits of fish oil supplements include overall healthier cardiovascular system and in the elderly lowers the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration which leads to loss of vision.

Side effects of fish oil are –burps and belching, stomach upsets, bloating, indigestion and unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Uncommon side effects are-skin rashes, back pain, flu like symptoms and minor infections.

If you find that you are allergic to fish oil do not take supplements

Omega-6 helps hair growth, skin health and the reproductive systems.

Omega 9 fatty acids like Olive oil contain oleic acid, which is considered for heart health and preventing stroke. It also helps improve the immune system and lowers blood cholesterol.Health benefits are similar to omega-3 and omega – fatty acids.

In addition to finding in olive oil, omega-9 fatty acids are found in sesame oil, chia seeds, pecans, macadamia nuts and avocados.

I am certain that most of you are on daily fish oil capsules.


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