Americans have long been phobic about consuming fats, even the good kinds. While this attitude is changing, most American diets remain deficient in omegas, and this lack contributes to disease.
Omega 3s—along with omega 6s—are considered “essential” fatty acids. This means the body can’t make them, so they must be constantly replenished for good health.
Fish oil is rich in two omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). To increase your intake, consider eating anchovies, herring, wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Other choices include grassfed meat, flaxseeds and flax oil, chia seeds, and walnuts. Experts advise that healthy people consume 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) of omega 3 per day. If you’re not a fan of fish, consider omega-3 supplements.
Omega 3 is cardioprotective and linked to lower levels of inflammation. Increased intake of omega 3s lowers triglyceride levels and the risk for high blood pressure and diabetes. Fish oil supplements may help reduce joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have also found that omega 3 intake can help prevent depression and anxiety and improve symptoms of ADHD.
Omega 3s can also help prevent atopic dermatitis, lessen the risk for macular degeneration, protect visual and neurological development in infants, fight certain cancers, and help with conditions such as asthma, Crohn’s, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis.
Ideally, we should consume about twice as many omega 6s as omega 3s. However, because so many processed foods (such as commercially processed vegetable oils and grains) contain omega 6s, the ratio is currently 17:1. This can lead to an excess of inflammation in the body. The key is to cut down on processed foods and focus instead on gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a high-quality omega 6. GLA is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can be found in supplements made from the oils of the black currant, borage, and evening primrose plants.
In addition to promoting weight loss by increasing the body’s fat-burning ability, GLA helps fight allergy symptoms and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, asthma, eczema, and psoriasis. It’s also useful for diabetes, PMS, osteoporosis, and ulcerative colitis.
A study from researchers at Ohio State showed that improving the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 decreased the risk of hip fractures. Omega 6s are also effective for lowering total and LDL (lousy) cholesterol levels. Used in combination with omega 3s, omega 6s can significantly lower deaths from heart disease and help protect vision.
Our bodies can synthesize omega 9s from food, so they are not considered “essential” like omegas 3 and 6. Omega 9, an oleic acid, can be found in olives, olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nuts, and almond butter.
Omega 9 can help lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol. It may help boost memory.
“The association of red blood cell n-3 and n-6 fatty acids with bone mineral density and hip fracture risk in the Women’s Health Initiative” by T.S. Orchard et al., J Bone Miner Res, 3/13
“Diet and psoriasis…” by J.W. Millsop et al., J Am Acad Dermatol, 9/14 n “Do long-chain omega-3 fatty acids protect from atopic dermatitis?” by I. Reese and T. Werfel, J Dtsch Dermatol Ges, 9/15
“Polyunsaturated fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease” by A.S. Abdelhamid et al., Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 7/18
“Potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in non-melanoma skin cancer” by H.S. Black and L.E. Rhodes, J Clin Med, 2/16