I’m sure you have heard the term essential fatty acids at some point. The question is why are omega fatty acids so essential in our overall health, and how can we make sure we are getting an adequate amount of these fatty acids in our diet. Our body doesn’t naturally produce these essential fatty acids, we have to supplement them so our body can use them and convert them into what is needed to stay healthy and avoid sickness.
The word essential is not used lightly, because we need these oily nutrients to protect our cells for optimal health.
Deficiencies in essential fatty acids have an increased risk of inflammatory diseases like heart disease, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s, dementia, asthma, and diabetes as well as many other auto-immune related illnesses including Rheumatoid arthritis.
The endocannabinoid system and Omega 3?
The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors in our body that not only regulate the distribution of cannabis in the body but in recent years has been discovered to play a much larger role in other healthy bodily functions.
Omega 3 has also been discovered to have an impact on the anti-inflammatory functions of the endocannabinoid system. Omega 3 is converted into endocannabinoids naturally within the body and is distributed through a network of receptors, which can reduce inflammation, and restore homeostasis.
The DHA and EPA myth.
It has long been thought that Omega 3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic) from fish or krill oil, was the best way to obtain the adequate amounts of essential fats that we cannot produce in the body. Recent studies have shown that DHA and EPA are able to be converted in the body from Omega 3 LA (linolenic acid), an essential fatty acid found in most plant-based seed oils and nuts.
In some cases without the adequate cofactors in our diet, we may not be able to convert these fats. As always though, our brilliant body uses other mechanisms like these cofactors to help it use and absorb these fats when needed.
What are omega 3 cofactors?
When trying to increase your intake of omega fatty acids to improve health, we have to take a look at the cofactors that help us absorb and convert the fats we intake, to the fats we need and use. These cofactors help the body activate and shut off particular pathways, that take the fats where they need to be and ensure they are used correctly.
Some important cofactors include.
- vitamins: B6, B12, biotin, niacin, folinic acid
- minerals: zinc, magnesium, and selenium.
Another major cofactor for boosting plant based omega 3 absorption is Tumeric, studies have shown that turmeric, as well as being a powerful anti-inflammatory in itself, can increase the conversion of plant-based fats into DHA and EPA by up to 50%.
What are the main types of Omega 3 and 6 fats?
Fats (fatty acids) fall into two main groups – saturated and unsaturated – based on their chemistry. There are three major classes of unsaturated fatty acids: omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. The omega-6s and omega-3s are essential. The omega-9s are non-essential because the body can make them from other fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids are further classified as either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Essential Fatty Acids are polyunsaturated. They include:
- the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA), and its derivatives, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
- the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and its derivatives, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Are there other essential fatty acids?
There are many other fats that play a major role in our health which is often left out of the discussion. Omega 5, 7, 9 and 11. These include essential fats like CLA and CLNA which play a role in immune function, and auto-immune response, inflammation reduction and the regulation and production of cortisol.
What is the perfect ratio of Omega 3 and 6?
The world health organization recognized a study that suggested omega 3 and 6 is best consumed at a ratio of between 2:1 – 4:1 ratio omega 6 to omega 3, depending on other dietary factors. These ratios can be found in hemp seed oil.
What is the best source of plant-based omega 3 & omega 6?
Fish and grass-fed meats have also been known as a great source of omega 3 and 6 essential fats. If you are looking for a plant-based alternative to omega 3 and 6, the nuts, seeds, and plants have you covered.
A few plant-based sources of omega 3 and 6.
Why is the ratio so important?
Omega 6 is a pro-inflammatory fatty acid, it can have a detrimental effect on health when consumed in the wrong ratios, the over consumption of grain-fed animal products, refined sugars, complex carbohydrates, and vegetable oils has led us to consume an unbalanced ratio of omega 6 fatty acids. The modern western diet has a ratio closer to 16:1. Omega 6 to Omega 3, but when consumed in the correct ratios of between 2:1 and 4:1 they have a synergistic anti-inflammatory effect.
Plant-based omega 3 vs Fish oil.
The question remains, Is plant based omega 3 enough? Most animals including fish have the ability to convert fats into fats that they need to survive. Are fish a superior source of EPA and DHA? Yes! But just like us, fish eat plant-based sources of omega 3 in their diet through algae seaweed and grasses and convert it to EPA and DHA. In fact, a study performed on fish raised for human consumption showed that fish feed had to be adjusted to supplement EPA and DHA in predatory fish, that consumed fewer algae and weed through their control diet when being raised.
Grass-fed animals also typically have a much more nutrient dense meat that is a result of the omega fatty acids they consume through their plant-based diet.
There is no doubt that animal products are a great source of healthy fats, as long as they are free range and grass fed. If you would prefer a plant-based source of omega 3 and 6 for environmental and ethical reasons. With the added intake of cofactors, plant-based omega 3 and 6 can be sufficient source of good fats to keep you happy and healthy. Still not convinced? We compare hemp seed oil vs fish oil here >>.