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Omega 3 and Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acids

Updated on March 16, 2011
Fish - a source of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid
Fish - a source of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid

Omega 3 and Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acids



Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because they are needed for human health but the body cannot make them itself. That is why we need to get them from the foods that we eat. These fats can be found in fatty fish and certain types of plant oils.

It is important to maintain a good balance of omega-3s and omega-6s ( another essential fatty acid found in many seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils ) in the diet as these two substances work together to promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation and most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. So an imbalance of these essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease. A healthy diet should only contain approximately one to four times more omega-6s and omega-3s. Most of us need to pay special attention to good food sources of omega-3s.


Different types


There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids : alpha-linolenic acid ( ALA ), eicosapentaenoic acid ( EPA ), and docosahexaenoic acid ( DHA ). The body has enzymes that can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, the two main types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by the body. You get the EPA and DHA directly and more efficiently by eating oily fish.

EPA and DHA are found primarily in oily cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines. ALA is found primarily in flaxseed and flaxseed oils, walnuts, and smaller amounts in dark green leafy vegetables.


Health benefits


Scientists made the connection between omega-3s and health while studying the people of Greenland. As a group they suffered far less from certain diseases, including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis than other populations. Yet their diet was high in fat from eating whale, seal, and salmon. Researchers determined that these foods were rich in omega-3 fatty acids, providing real disease-fighting benefits.


Heart disease


Evidence suggests that EPA and DHA found in fish oil help reduce risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These fatty acids can inhibit the development of plaque and blood clots, lower triglycerides, reduce cardiac arrhythmia, and offer protection from sudden cardiac death. Studies of heart attack survivors have found that omega-3 supplements can reduce the risk of death, subsequent heart attacks and stroke.




People with diabetes often have high blood triglyceride and low HDL levels. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil ( EPA and DHA ) can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL. ALA may not be as effective for diabetics as they may lack the ability to efficiently convert ALA to the more usable EPA or DHA.




Several studies have concluded that omega-3 supplements can reduce tenderness in joints, decrease morning stiffness, and allow a reduction in the amount of medication needed to relieve the pain experienced by people with rheumatoid arthritis.




People who are deficient in omega-3s in their diet may be at increased risk for depression. These fatty acids are important components of nerve cell membranes. They help nerve cells communicate with each other, which is important in maintaining good mental health.


Breast Cancer


The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids appear to be an important factor in the development and growth of breast cancer. More research is needed, however, before we can understand this relationship. Some researchers have speculated that omega-3s in combination with other nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium may prove to have value in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.




Fish is a rich source of Omega-3 essential fatty acid
Fish is a rich source of Omega-3 essential fatty acid


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    • Kulsum Mehmood profile image

      Dr Kulsum Mehmood 8 years ago from Nagpur, India

      Thanks Lgali, Sufidreamer and LondonGirl for the comments.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      fantastic hub - thanks for the detailed info

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Excellent hub - full of information about the benefits of these important dietary supplements.

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 8 years ago

      excellent article

    • Kulsum Mehmood profile image

      Dr Kulsum Mehmood 8 years ago from Nagpur, India

      Yes Muthusamy. Omega 9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid found in olives, peanuts, cashewnuts and pistachios. It is not an essential fatty acid as it can be produced by the body in the presence of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. But, if omega-3 and omega-6 are not present in the body, then omega-9 cannot be produced in the body and it becomes an essential fatty acid. Omega-9 lowers cholesterol levels, it reduces atherosclerosis, improves immune function, and it protects the body agasinst certain types of cancer. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Muthusamy R profile image

      Muthusamy R 8 years ago from CHENNAI India

      Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9 (Is there anything like that?) are helpful to human health. You nave nicely introduced this subject in your HUB. Thank you for your wonderful HUB.