Omega 3:6 Fatty Acids

By Clair Dainard - Updated September 18, 2012

 

For several years, dietary fat was demonized as a major contributor to obesity and chronic diseases. As low-fat and non-fat foods ruled the grocery store shelves, an interesting thing happened, the incidence of heart attacks, obesity, and diabetes actually increased! We are now beginning to understand that dietary fat plays an important role in maintaining weight by promoting satiety and helping the body to maintain blood sugar levels. In addition, certain fats, known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, play several important roles in supporting cardiovascular, neurological, and immune system health. When using Woojabooty to track your daily intake, you can not only see your total fat intake, but also track you ratio and food sources of these important dietary fats. {Screen shot – Score page with emphasis on Omega 3/6 and fiber tracker}

 

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are lipids that must be obtained from the diet because the body does not have the ability to synthesize them. There are two known essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for humans, the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (18:3ῴ-3) and omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) (18:6 ῴ-6). Omega-3 fats can be found in plant sources such as walnuts and flax oil as well as cold-water fish like salmon. Omega-6 fats are commonly found in vegetable oils used in cooking and food production. These two essential fats work together in the body to control an important component of the body’s immune system, the inflammatory response. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are used for the production of body compounds known as eicosanoids. These signaling molecules influence control and communication over the immune and central nervous systems as well as the inflammatory pathways. In general, eicosonoids derived from omega-6 fats are more pro-inflammatory while the directly competing omega-3 eicosonoids support less inflammatory activity and help to diminish the inflammatory response. Excessive pro-inflammatory eicosanoid activity is linked to numerous health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, arthritis, and more. Consuming omega-3 and -6 fats in the correct ratio of approximately 1:3 is important to keep inflammatory pathways in check.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids have received growing attention in recent years since the standard American diet (appropriately abbreviated as SAD), is believed to provide an overabundance of omega-6 fats, mostly in the form of vegetable oils from processed foods. Oils high in omega-6 include peanut, soybean oil, canola oil, and some forms of shortening and are commonly used in fast foods, potato chips, snack foods, and cereals. At the same time intake of omega-3 fats, which are found in food sources such as cold-water fatty fish, walnuts, flax, and chia seeds, has been on the steady decline. This shift in the dietary Omega 3:6 ratio is believed to be an underlying cause of the increase in inflammation-related diseases observed in the United States[i]. {Screen shot McDonald’s French Fries Omega-6 Content}

 

In addition to controlling inflammation, the PUFAs make up a large component of neurological tissue, including both the brain itself and the membranes surrounding nerve tissue. Several studies have linked increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids to decreased risk of neurological disorders including depression and memory loss. In addition, studies on infants who consume higher levels of omega-3s show improvements in neurological development[ii]. If you are pregnant or nursing, or are simply concerned with your neurological health, the Woojabooty food tracker can help you monitor your omega-3 intake from healthy food sources to support brain function. {Screen shot of Coho salmon with omega-3 level}

 

In addition to making sure you are consuming a balanced ratio of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids from quality sources, it is important to understand the difference between plant and animal sources of these fats and their affects on the body. Plant sourced omega-3s, such as those found in flax oil, chia, and vegetable oils are the starting material for the longer chain EFAs that are more biologically active in the body. When you consume vegetable sources of omega-3 fats, the body performs synthesis of the long-chain omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (20:5 ῴ-3,) and. docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (22:6 ῴ-3) via a series of reactions. Unfortunately, in some individuals, conversion of plants-sourced omega-3s (ALA) to the biologically active EPA and DHA may not always be effective. Two studies that reviewed the net increase in EPA and DHA after increasing dietary plant-sourced omega-3s observed a moderate net rise in EPA while DHA levels remained predominantly unchanged. DHA is an important component of neurological development and impaired conversion has been linked to learning and cognitive disorders. Research has shown that DHA conversion appears to be better in women than men (thought to be due to its importance in fetal development) and this discrepancy is thought to be a contributing factor to the increased levels of certain developmental disorders seen in young males[iii] ,[iv],[v],[vi]. Furthermore, recent studies have found that both obesity and diabetes may further impair the function of enzymes involved in the production of long-chain omega-3 fats. In a recent study, expression of many of these enzymes was found to be suppressed by high levels of blood glucose and insulin as well as a high-fat diet. These findings indicate that production of EPA and DHA may be significantly reduced in the patients that may benefit from these long-chain essential fats the most[vii]. If you have any of these conditions, consuming the animal sources of EPA and DHA from cold water fish or a high dose fish oil or krill oil supplement may be necessary to optimize your omega 3:6 ratio.

 

Woojabooty helps users to take the first step in monitoring their fatty acid intake by providing a clear overview of your daily intake of omega-3 vs. omega-6 fats. Fat is not a macronutrient to be feared, as once thought. Intake of healthy fats can support your overall health and also have positive benefits on weight management through the promotion of satiety. Using Woojabooty’s hunger tracker, you will be able to observe the changes in your hunger patterns after introducing food sources that contain healthy fats, as well as hopefully experience improvements in your total well-being.

 

References:

 

[i] Park Y, Park S, Yi H, et al. Low level of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in erythrocytes is a risk factor for both acute ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke in Koreans. Nutr Res. 2009 Dec;29(12):825-30

[ii] Kitjaka, K, et al. The role of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in brain: Modulation of rat brain gene expression by dietary n-3 fatty acids. 10.1073/pnas.042698699 PNAS March 5, 2002 vol. 99 no. 5 2619-2624

[iii] Burdge, G.C. et al. Conversion of a-linolenic acid to longer-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human adults. Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 45:581-597, 2005.

[iv] Burdge, G.C. and Wootton, S.A. Conversion of a-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in young women. Brit J. Nutr. 88: 411-420, 2002

[v] Burdge G.C. et al. Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaneoic acidsare the principle products of alpha-linolenic acid metabolism in young men. Brit J. Nutr. 88. 355-363, 2002

[vi] Emken E.A., et al. Dietary linolenic acid influences desaturation and acylation of deuterium-labeled linoleic and linolenic acids in young adult males. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1214:277-288, 1994

[vii] Yun Wang*,1, et al.Regulation of hepatic fatty acid elongase and desaturase expression in diabetes and obesity. J Lipid Res. 2006 Sep;47(9):2028-41. Epub 2006 Jun 21