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Omega-3-6-9 Fatty Acids: A Complete Overview

Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids are all important
dietary fats.

Interestingly, each one has a number of health benefits for
your body.

However, it’s important to get the right balance of omega-3, -6
and -9 fatty acids in your diet. An imbalance may contribute to
a number of chronic diseases.

Here is a guide to omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, including
what they are, why you need them and where you can get them.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

fatty acids
are polyunsaturated fats, a type of fat your
body can’t make.

The term “polyunsaturated” refers to their chemical structure,
as “poly” means many and “unsaturated” refers to double bonds.
Together they mean that omega-3 fatty acids have many double

“Omega-3” refers to the position of the final double bond in
the chemical structure, which is three carbon atoms from the
“omega” or tail end of the molecular chain.

Since the human body can’t produce omega-3s, these fats are
referred to as “essential fats,” meaning that you have to get
them from your diet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least
two portions of oily fish per week, which is rich in the
omega-3s EPA and DHA (1).

There are many types of
omega-3 fats
, which differ based on their chemical shape
and size. Here are the three most common:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): This 20-carbon
    fatty acid’s main function is to produce chemicals called
    eicosanoids, which help reduce inflammation. EPA also helps
    reduce symptoms of depression (2, 3).
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): A 22-carbon
    fatty acid, DHA
    makes up about 8% of brain weight and is extremely important
    for normal brain development and function (4).
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This 18-carbon
    fatty acid can be converted into EPA and DHA, although the
    process is not very efficient. ALA is mainly used by the body
    for energy (5).

Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of human cell membranes. They
also have a number of other important functions, including:

  • Improving heart health: Omega-3 fatty acids
    can increase “good” HDL cholesterol. They can also reduce
    blood pressure
    and the formation of arterial plaques
    (6, 7, 8, 9, 10).
  • Supporting mental health: Taking omega-3s
    can reduce symptoms of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar
    disorder. It can also reduce the risk of psychotic disorders
    for those who are at risk (11, 12, 13, 14, 15).
  • Reducing weight and waist size: Omega-3 fats
    play an important role in weight management and can help
    reduce waist circumference (16, 17).
  • Decreasing liver fat: Consuming omega-3s in
    your diet can help decrease the amount of fat in your
    (18, 19, 20).
  • Supporting infant brain development:
    Omega-3s are extremely important for brain development in
    babies (4, 21).
  • Fighting inflammation: Omega-3 fats are
    anti-inflammatory, meaning they can reduce the inflammation
    in your body that can contribute to a number of chronic
    diseases (22, 23, 24).
  • Preventing dementia: People who eat more
    fish, which is high in omega-3 fats, tend to have a slower
    decline in brain function in old age. Omega-3s may also help
    improve memory in older people (25, 26).
  • Promoting bone health: People with higher
    omega-3 intake and blood levels tend to have better bone
    mineral density (27, 28).
  • Preventing asthma: Omega-3 intake can help
    reduce symptoms of asthma, especially in early life (29, 30, 31).

Unfortunately, the Western diet does not contain enough
omega-3s. A deficiency may contribute to chronic diseases like
obesity, diabetes and heart disease (32).

Summary: Omega-3 fats are essential fats
that you must get from your diet. They have important
benefits for your heart, brain and metabolism.

What Are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?

Vegetable Oils

Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are
polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The only difference is that the last double bond is six carbons
from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule.

Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential, so you need to obtain
them from your diet.

These fats are primarily used for energy. The most common
omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, which can be converted into
longer omega-6 fats such as arachidonic acid (ARA) (33).

Like EPA, ARA is used to produce eicosanoids. However, the eicosanoids produced by
ARA are more pro-inflammatory (34, 35).

Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are important chemicals in the
immune system. However, when too many of them are produced,
they can increase inflammation and inflammatory disease

Although omega-6 fats are essential, the modern Western diet
contains far more omega-6 fatty acids than necessary (37).

The recommended
ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids
in the diet is 4:1
or less. However, the Western diet has a ratio between 10:1 and

Therefore, although omega-6 fats are essential in the right
quantities, most people in the developed world should aim to
reduce their omega-6 intake (37).

Nevertheless, some omega-6 fatty acids have shown benefits in
treating symptoms of chronic disease.

Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6
fatty acid found in certain oils, such as evening primrose oil
and borage oil. When consumed, much of it is converted to
another fatty acid called dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA).

One study showed that taking a high dose of GLA supplements
significantly reduced a number of symptoms of rheumatoid
arthritis (38).

Another interesting study found that taking GLA supplements in
addition to a breast cancer drug was more effective at treating
breast cancer than the drug alone (39).

linoleic acid
(CLA) is another form of omega-6 fat that has
some health benefits. For example, one large study found that
taking 3.2 grams of CLA supplements per day effectively reduced
body fat mass in humans (40).

Summary: Omega-6 fats are essential fats
that are an important source of energy for the body. However,
the Western diet contains too many.

What Are Omega-9 Fatty Acids?

Olive Oil in a Glass Bottle and Three Green Olives and Leaves

Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated, meaning they only have
one double bond.

It is located nine carbons from the omega end of the fatty acid

Oleic acid is the most common omega-9 fatty acid and the most
common monounsaturated fatty acid in the diet.

Omega-9 fatty acids aren’t strictly “essential,” meaning they
can be produced by the body. In fact, omega-9 fats are the most
abundant fats in most cells in the body.

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However, consuming foods rich in omega-9 fatty acids instead of
other types of fat may have a number of beneficial health

One large study found that high-monounsaturated fat diets could
reduce plasma triglycerides by 19% and “bad”
very-low-density-lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol by 22% in
patients with diabetes (41).

Another study found that feeding mice diets high in
monounsaturated fat improved
insulin sensitivity
and decreased inflammation (42).

The same study found that humans who ate high-monounsaturated
fat diets had less inflammation and better insulin sensitivity
than those who ate diets high in saturated fat (42).

Summary: Omega-9 fats are non-essential
fats, since they can be produced by the body. Diets that
replace some saturated fats with omega-9 fats may have
benefits for metabolic health.

Which Foods Contain These Fats?

You can easily obtain omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids from your

However, it is important to get the right balance of each. The
Western diet contains far more omega-6 fats than necessary, and
not enough omega-3 fats.

Here is a list of foods that are high in omega-3, -6 and -9
fatty acids.

Foods High in Omega-3 Fats

Grilled Salmon

The best source of omega-3 EPA and DHA is oily fish.

However, you can also obtain
these omega-3s
from other marine sources, such as algal
oils. ALA, on the other hand, is mainly obtained from nuts and

There are no official standards for daily
omega-3 intake
, but various organizations offer guidelines.

According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute
of Medicine, the adequate intake of omega-3s per day is 1.6
grams for men and 1.1 grams for women, for adults 19 years and
over (43).

Here are the amounts and types of omega-3s in one serving of
the following foods:

  • Salmon: 4.0 grams EPA and DHA
  • Mackerel: 3.0 grams EPA and DHA
  • Sardines: 2.2 grams EPA and DHA
  • Anchovies: 1.0 grams EPA and DHA
  • Chia seeds: 4.9 grams ALA
  • Walnuts: 2.5 grams ALA
  • Flaxseeds: 2.3 grams ALA

Foods High in Omega-6 Fats

Jar of Mayonnaise

Omega-6 fats are found in large amounts in refined vegetable
oils and foods cooked in vegetable oils.

Nuts and seeds also contain significant amounts of omega-6
fatty acids.

According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute
of Medicine, the adequate intake of omega-6s per day is 17
grams for men and 12 grams for women, for adults from 19–50
years old (43).

Here are the amounts of omega-6s in 100 grams (3.5 oz) of the
following foods:

  • Soybean oil: 50 grams
  • Corn oil: 49 grams
  • Mayonnaise: 39 grams
  • Walnuts: 37 grams
  • Sunflower seeds: 34 grams
  • Almonds: 12 grams
  • Cashew nuts: 8 grams

As you can see, it is very easy to get more than enough
omega-6s through your diet.

Foods High in Omega-9 Fats

Pile of Cashews

Omega-9 fats are also common in vegetable and seed oils, as
well as nuts and seeds.

There are no adequate intake recommendations for omega-9s,
since they are non-essential.

Here are the amounts of omega-9s in 100 grams of the following

  • Olive oil: 83 grams
  • Cashew nut oil: 73 grams
  • Almond oil: 70 grams
  • Avocado oil: 60 grams
  • Peanut oil: 47 grams
  • Almonds: 30 grams
  • Cashews: 24 grams
  • Walnuts: 9 grams

Summary: The best sources of omega-3s are
oily fish, whereas omega-6s and omega-9s are found in plant
oils, nuts and seeds.

Should You Take an Omega-3-6-9 Supplement?

Combined omega-3-6-9 supplements usually provide each of these
fatty acids in suitable proportions, such as 2:1:1 for

Such oils can help increase your intake of omega-3 fats, which
should be consumed more in the Western diet.

In addition, these oils provide a healthy balance of fatty
acids so that the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 is less than

However, since most people already consume too many omega-6s,
and omega-9s are produced by the body, there is no general need
to supplement with these fats.

Therefore, it is best to focus your diet on getting a good
balance of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids. This should involve
eating at least two portions of oily fish
per week and using
olive oil
for cooking and in salad dressing.

In addition, try to limit omega-6 intake by limiting your
consumption of other vegetable oils and fried foods that have
been cooked in refined vegetable oils.

If you do not get enough omega-3s in your diet, it is best to
take an omega-3
alone rather than a combined omega-3-6-9

Summary: Combined omega-3-6-9 supplements
provide optimal ratios of fatty acids, but likely provide no
additional benefits compared to omega-3 supplements.

How to Choose an Omega 3-6-9 Supplement

3-6-9 Omega Capsules in a Bottle

Much like other oils, polyunsaturated fatty acids are easily
oxidized when exposed to heat and light.

Therefore, if you’re buying an omega-3-6-9 supplement, choose
one that is cold pressed. This means the oil has been extracted
with limited heat, minimizing the oxidization that can damage
the fatty acid molecules.

To ensure you are taking a supplement that isn’t oxidized,
choose one that contains an antioxidant such as vitamin E.

Additionally, select a supplement with the highest omega-3
content — ideally more than 0.3 grams per serving.

Furthermore, since EPA and DHA have more health benefits than
ALA, choose a supplement that uses fish
or algal oil, rather than flaxseed oil.

Summary: Choose an omega-3 supplement
instead of a combined omega-3-6-9 supplement. If you’re
buying a combined supplement, choose one with a high
concentration of EPA and DHA.

The Bottom Line

Although combined omega-3-6-9 supplements have become very
popular, they generally provide no additional benefit over
taking omega-3 alone.

Omega-6s are essential in certain quantities, but they are in
many foods and people following a Western diet already consume
too many of them.

Additionally, omega-9 fats can be produced by the body and are
easily obtained in the diet, so you don’t need to take them in
supplement form.

Therefore, although combined supplements contain optimal omega
3-6-9 ratios, taking just omega-3s will likely provide you with

the most health benefits

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