Omega fatty acids 3, 6 & 9

Omega fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids. Fats are indispensable in a healthy diet. We only get vitamins A, D, E and K (fat-soluble vitamins) by eating fat. Fat contains essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid. However, we eat too much and the wrong fats (saturated fatty acids). Omega fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, are important for our body, as they positively influence our health and can significantly improve certain functions.

Fatty acids and fats

Fats are indispensable in a healthy diet. Fats are needed as a concentrated energy source. We only get vitamins A, D, E and K (also called fat-soluble vitamins) by eating fat. Fat not only contains essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid, it also ensures better bowel movements and is a seasoning that gives a feeling of satiety. However, research shows that on average we eat too often and too much fat. But we mainly choose food with the wrong fat composition: saturated fatty acids.

Nutrition and fatty acids

Our diet has three types of fatty acids:

  • Saturated fatty acids : these are found in meat, milk and milk products, coconut, cocoa, cookies, sauces and snacks.
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids : found in olives, olive oil, peanuts and most nuts.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids : found in seeds, sunflower oil, linseed oil, sesame oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, walnuts and fatty fish (including sardines, tuna, herring, anchovies, mackerel, salmon).


Saturated fatty acids

Saturated fatty acids are unhealthy fats and have little function for the body. The body does not break down these fats or breaks them down poorly. This can increase cholesterol. In the long run, this can even lead to arteriosclerosis or heart problems, for example.

Mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids

These are functional fats: unsaturated fatty acids. They are divided into omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids . They are called Essential Fatty Acids because the body cannot produce them itself and it is therefore necessary to obtain them through diet. Omega 3 and 6 together are also sometimes referred to as vitamin F complex .

Omega fatty acids

Because our lifestyle and diet have changed significantly in recent years, the balance of fatty acids has become seriously disturbed. The intake of omega 6 fatty acids has increased at the expense of omega 3 fatty acids, while it is important that the two are in balance. Since these fatty acids use the same enzymes for their conversion, an excess of omega-6 fatty acids inhibits the conversion of omega-3 fatty acids.
Essential fatty acids (such as linoleic acid in sunflower oil) are very sensitive to oxidation, and are usually converted into toxic compounds during baking and frying. Although people may fry in good fats, the effect is lost. Many people appear to be deficient in essential fatty acids. Due to the (relative) excess of linoleic acid (omega 6) and the decline in (oily) fish consumption, the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in the diet has become unbalanced. The optimal ratio of omega 6:omega 3 is 4:1. In the Western diet this ratio is often between 10:1 – 20:1.

Functions of omega fatty acids

Omega ‘ is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. For these fatty acids it indicates the last/end of a chain, where they are located. Research shows that these essential fatty acids appear to have a positive influence on health : a good effect on aspects of both physical and mental condition. They appear to be essential for normal structure and function of cell membranes, playing an important role in oxygen transport and energy transfer to cells. They are also involved in the formation of hormone-like substances that control a large number of metabolic processes and play an important role in allergic reactions and inflammation, among other things.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are poly(strongly) unsaturated fatty acids. This group includes:

  • Vegetable oils (such as linseed oil): alpha linolenic acid
  • Fish oils : EPA (EisosaPentanoic Acid) and DHA (DocosaHexaene Acid)

EPA/DHA are essential, so-called ‘long chain fatty acids’ that occur in oily fish.
Research shows the following about the effect of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Optimize the balance of fatty acids in the body
  • Heart and blood vessels: lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, keeps the blood thin
  • Promote the natural immune system, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic effect
  • Regulate hormone balance
  • Promote glucose and fat metabolism
  • Promote strong bones and flexible joints
  • Stimulate brain functions (neurological)
  • Stimulate vision
  • Promote mental balance.


Omega 6 fatty acids

Omega 6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are less highly unsaturated than the omega-3 fatty acids. The best known omega 6 fatty acids are:

Linoleic acid

Linoleic acid is found in vegetable oil, margarine, seeds and nuts. Linoleic acid has become a very commercial product because of its cholesterol-lowering properties. It is now known that other fatty acids also have this property and that the body needs several fatty acids.
GLA (Gamma linolenic acid)
GLA occurs naturally in evening primrose oil, borage or blackcurrant seed oil and:

  • Inhibits inflammatory responses
  • Inhibits thrombosis formation
  • Has a blood pressure lowering effect
  • Inhibits the production of cholesterol
  • Stimulates immune cells and therefore the immune system
  • Reduces premenstrual complaints
  • Reduces skin conditions
  • (It also seems to have a beneficial effect on MS).


Archidonic acid

Archidonic acid is mainly found in meat. It is a less favorable fatty acid, as it can promote inflammation and appears to be able to damage brain cells, for example.

Omega 9 fatty acids

Omega 9 fatty acids are monounsaturated . The best known is oleic acid in olive oil ; this has a:

  • Cholesterol-lowering effect
  • Stimulates an elastic cell wall


Omega fatty acid supplements

In principle, a good and balanced diet would be a good supplier of omega fatty acids. However, it may be advisable to take supplements.
Linolenic acid can in principle be converted in the human body into EPA and DHA fatty acids respectively . However, these reactions proceed very slowly and may be insufficient under certain circumstances (wrong dietary habits, signs of old age, etc.). It is impossible for humans to convert omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids into each other, so that an adequate intake of each type is necessary. Even if one eats a lot of oily fish often or every day (100 – 200 grams of fish per person per day), it proves difficult, if not impossible, to absorb the desired or necessary amount of EPA and DHA. The amount of EPA/DHA recommended by the Dutch Health Council is 200 mg per day.


Omega fatty acids specifically

A good fatty acid balance (consumed by the mother) also appears to be very important for pregnant women, for the health of the unborn fetus and later the infant, especially for the development of the brain and eyes.
Supplements with omega fatty acids with the correct EPA/DHA ratio appear to have a good effect on children/people with learning difficulties, e.g. dyslexia . It also appears to have a good effect on children with disorders on the autistic spectrum .
Risk groups for EPA and DHA (long-chain omega fatty acids) deficiencies are mainly:

  • Women who are pregnant
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Children up to 2 years old
  • Elderly
  • People who never, little or almost never eat fish.


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