You've probably heard the terms "fatty acid" and "omega 3" before, but do you know what a fatty acid is or why your body needs it? What about the different types of fatty acids, what foods you can naturally find them in and how much your body needs to live a long, healthy life?
Fatty acids are important for all systems of the body to function normally, including your skin, respiratory system, circulatory system, brain and organs. There are two fatty acids, termed essential fatty acids (EFA) that your body does not produce on its own. EFAs must be ingested.
The two essential fatty acids that the human body cannot produce are the omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid, which are important for brain development, immune system function and blood pressure regulation.
What is Omega-3 Fatty Acid?
Omega-3 fatty acid (Alpha-linolenic acid) is an essential fatty acid that plays an important role in brain function and may help you fight against cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends a diet in which fatty fish, like salmon, herring, sardines and tuna are consumed at least twice a week.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Research on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acid has shown that it may be useful for supporting the following:
- Some Cancers
- Skin Disorders
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Attention Disorders
- Depressive Disorders
- Macular Degeneration
- Digestive Difficulties
What is Omega-6 Fatty Acid?
Omega-6 fatty acid (Linoleic Acid) combined with omega-3 fatty acid produces many of the health benefits described above, but the trickiest part about playing the fatty acid game is that it is best to eat them in the right amounts.
You should be eating about twice as much omega-6 as omega-3, so that your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 2:1, but in today's world of fast food, frozen entrees, and high calorie snacks, it is not uncommon for most people to be getting about 15 times more omega-6 than omega-3.
The best sources of omega-6 are fish, seeds, nuts and grains and green leafy vegetables, like lettuce, broccoli, purslane and kale, and in certain raw vegetable oils.
What is Omega-9 Fatty Acid?
Omega-9, or monounsaturated oleic and stearic acid, is a non-essential fatty acid produced naturally by the body whenever there is enough of either Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids.
However, if you do not have enough omega 3 and omega 6, then you must get omega 9 from your diet.
This fatty acid plays a role in promoting heart health by supporting healthy, balanced cholesterol levels and improving immune function.
What is EPA and DHA?
Within the body omega-3 fatty acids are converted to DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosatetraenoic acid, respectively). DHA and EPA are highly unsaturated fats that play very important roles in the vision development and brain function of infants.
One study found significantly lower amounts of EPA in the cells of patients who had attempted suicide, suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids may actually play a role in suicide prevention. A lack of DHA has been associated with Alzheimer disease, attention disorders, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis and other diseases. Blue green algae is a good source of EPA and DHA.